Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Madres (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

In the 1970s and 80ss Argentina felt the impact of "The Dirty War," an attempt by the very conservative junta to reshape the nation in their own image, by the most ruthless of methods including torture and murder and censorship.  Disagreeing with the government as well as any form of protest ended up illegal.  Even helping the poor could prove enough to earn arrest.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Against this backdrop an increasingly large group of women began to march, in the names of children and grandchildren who had gone missing. Many of these women, dubbed The Madres, went missing themselves. But they had a slow but sure impact upon history, one felt today over a generation later as the bloody wounds of that time continue to heal (sometimes only slightly if at all).

Stephanie Alison Walker's play takes place squarely in this nightmare time, but focuses upon one family only as they seek to at least mitigate their own horror story.  Josefina Acosta (Denise Blasor) lives with her daughter Carolina (Arianna Ortiz), both grappling with the latter's daughter having become one of the Desaparecidas, the "Disappeared."  While Josefina seeks to simply endure, to be as little offense as possible, Carolina feels a burning need to act. Her marching as one of the Madres spurs visits--first from Padre Juan (Gabriel Romero) who now works at a government prison, then from Diego (Alexander Pimentel) a former schoolboy with Carolina's missing daughter, now a soldier who has found his mission as a supporter of the junta, sporting a very real cruel streak and not the slightest awareness of that fact, even as he revels in emotional torture.  Padre Juan on the other hand, he seems to be fundamentally a coward.  Both come to this household to quietly warn them to stop having "dangerous associations."

Credit: Ed Krieger
The entire play takes place in one room, a seemingly ordinary parlor which becomes more and more obviously a cell in one gigantic, albeit relatively genteel, concentration camp.  It functions as a polemic, yes, but more as a portrait.  Here we see how benevolence and courage can be repressed or become mere whims, perhaps acts of manipulation.  Yet the drive for self preservation becomes eclipsed by emotional wounds, a fierce desire to prevent others from suffering as they have. 

It makes for a powerful narrative, draining and yet invigorating at the same time.  Also, it marks moments of real courage that history shows helped stop a great nation from sliding totally into the kind of horror we see today in places like North Korea.  For Argentina never became a true totalitarian state, with all decency ground down to nothing.  Even the butchers of the regime had to tell themselves they were doing good, where sacrificing for a better future, preserving and protecting others.  Hypocrisy? Maybe. But it became a tool for the brave but seemingly powerless to change their homeland.  Maybe not every Desaparecida (Natalie Llerena) will be saved. But in time, they will stop Disappearing, while some may survive.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Topical, don't you think?

Mind you, the full context of the play at times feels alien to such a total anglo like myself, but that context becomes clear enough.  So what if I don't know what that drink they all make for each other actually is?  Or I don't recognize most of the food or musicians mentioned?  Pretty soon it fades into the background, becoming the fabric of a life only alien in a few details.  The people, though--the man who means well but lacks the moral fiber to act, the conservative woman who cannot help herself when faced with deceit and viciousness, the firebrand keeping personal terror at bay, the weakling who finds a way to feel strong and smothers his former self in return, the innocent girl tortured in so many ways yet still full of kindness.  Therein lies the common humanity, which in turn gives each performance its power.

The Madres plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 2pm, then Mondays at 8pm through April 29, 2018 at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 North Vermont Blvd (next to Skylight Books), Los Angeles CA 90027.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for your review. On the performance you saw it was Margarita Lamas who starred as "Josefina." Denise Blasor won't be stepping in until early April.

-Tony Abatemarco, Co-Producer at Skylight