San Diego, CA---- The San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown is presenting the English Language World Premiere of “In The Time of the Butterflies” by Caridad Svich (2012 Obie Award winner) based on the Latin American novel of the same name by Julia Alvarez.
“In The Time of the Butterflies” is based on a true story of three courageous women who stood up and died for justice. That’s what makes this story so compelling for those who are students of organized resistance movements especially those during the Nazi persecution of the Jews throughout the Third Reich up to and during WWII.
Groups like the Jewish Resistance Movement were known to be active throughout Europe and especially in Poland. It’s is no secret that they were planned and supported by partisans that were intent on overthrowing the Third Reich and killing Hitler.
Most might have seen film clips of the uprisings in the Warsaw Ghetto and will understand the brutality and callousness that ran through the veins of those in charge. Many of these resistance groups also operated outside the Ghetto’s after 1942 (and until the war ended) in place like in France, Belgium, the Ukraine and Lithuania, and Belorussia.
A continent away in the Dominican Republic Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo or El Jefe, ruled over his people as tyrannical dictator for 31 years, first from 1930- 1938 and a second time from 1942-1952. Not too much different than a Hitler type, he was able to get away with murder, torture, rape, and taxation by imposing emergency taxes, killing squads and taking over financial institutions and industries and especially through fear by brutal interrogations.
It was reported that 17,000 Haitians were massacred in 1937 alone.
And this brings us to the Sisters Mirabal. Minerva, Patria, Maria Teresa and Dede Mirabal (Las hermanas Mirabal) who were all at once courageous, naïve, oft time frivolous and dedicated to being part of a resistance movement to over throw and eventually kill Trujillo. This is where we pick up Alvaraz’ story in Svich’s translation of “In The Time of the Butterflies”.
“In The Time of the Butterflies” is a memory play told in retrospect by oldest sister Dede (Catalina Maynard), who resisted entering the movement against Trujillo, yet was an active bystander as her three sisters; one after the other couldn’t resist the call to action.
More than focusing on the atrocities practiced by Trujillo, Dede (Catalina Maynard) guides a young American journalist (Sandra Ruiz’ is also the young Dede in flashback) by way of interview, through the history and personal goings and comings of her sisters using their diaries and her memory as she looks back and recounts the conditions leading up to and including their involvement. Ultimately they became the leaders of the underground resistance that finally led to their deaths.
With Dede’s conversations and the sketchy dialogue from the sisters we are learn the when, how and why they all decided to act. Missing are any details of what they actually did in their roles, yet we do see them leaving the house with backpacks and trunks laden with contraband. Any dialogue about what they are doing is most often missing.
Most of the action takes place in the beautiful tended garden of the Mirabal family, an upper class affluent family. There the three daughters, Patria (Elisa Gonzales), Minerva (Jacqueline Grace Lopez), and Antonia Maria Teresa (Maritxell Carrero), the youngest are introduced to us as they talk, dance, sing and act out their dreams, their desires and their concerns for the future of their country and for themselves.
Throughout we are exposed to the sister’s individual personalities and motives that propelled their actions. We see them interact with each other and how their relationships added the needed cement that held them together.
As younger folks they were no different, say than my three daughters were growing up. They giggled, talked about their futures, love, grew jealous of boyfriend relationships, fought about things and ideas that might be different from their own but they all possessed a dedication and love for their country. Each excelled the other in at least one way apart from the others. Patria was a math wiz, and Maria Teresa zeroed in on the art of politics. She was the most liberal, right from the start. Minerva loved to write poetry and recite verse. In the end, all were 'in' on any attempt to do away with Trujillo.
Directed by Associate director Todd Salovey and Herbert Siguenza (who also plays all the men’s roles; DJ and storyteller, Trujillo, Leo and Rufino) the action unfolds both leisurely when the girls are speaking, mending, crocheting blankets, etc., talking about girlie topics like shoes (Maria Teresa is the fashion queen), and then with an urgency when the nature of their conversation turned more to the covert business of their underground comings and goings and in particular not leaving diaries out for anyone to stumble upon.
The Rep’s production is filled with pleasant surprises as when the sisters have their frivolous moments, singing, dancing and reading from their personal diaries or when Michael Roth’s compositions and soundscapes (some beautifully played by Batya MacAdam-Somer on the violin) fill the theatre with both delight and somber music.
Ian Wallace’s white washed set (he is also credited with the awesome projections of butterflies, dates, a church, flowers) has little windows/doors up high that push out al la “Laugh In” of years ago, where character’s pop in to express their views. Siguenza makes the most use of them as the DJ or as Trujillo. Erika Aisha Moore’s choreography is delightful, expressive and airy. Anastasia Pautova’s costumes are perfect changing styles as the times change and the girls turn to women and Kristin Swift Hayes beautiful lighting design sets the mood more often than not.
The four women actors, all excellent representatives of their personality and identity, do extraordinary work in bringing Minerva, Patria, Dede and Maria Teresa to life. Jacqueline Grace Lopez is the fiery Minerva whose ambition to become a lawyer is only hampered by her feisty temper. Catalina Maynard (whom we’ve seen in several productions at ION) is equally elegant as the storyteller who relies mostly on diaries but at times mixes fact with legend from records her sisters left behind.
It’s amazing to think that the Mirabal Sisters were so young when this all happened. In fact they were all brutally murdered in 1960 when none, but Dede had lived to reached the old age of 40.
Apropos, the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly is four to six weeks. The Mirabald Sisters who became known as The Butterflies (their code names) managed to make it past puberty to adulthood and raise families. They lived and hid out in the mountains and planted the seeds of rebellion in the minds of the Dominica People. For them the job of resistance had begun at an early age, unfortunately they never lived to see Trujillo assassinated in 1961.
On Nov. 25th there is an International Day Against Violence Against Women, created by the United Nations in the Mirabald Sisters honor. They are your true martyrs.
Minerva: “I wake up early in the morning and I think abut the butterflies that collided against the bars between the windows at school when I was a little girl. They were so beautiful. I wanted to be just like them…A dream of youth that will some day be real.”
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Jan.26th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 79 Horton Plaza San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $31.00-$47.00, students $18.00
Venue: Lyceum Space