Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
January 17, 2014
What they did for love. One man goes AWOL from the Army. Another leaves his wife and son. And four sisters risk their lives for their country.
Two literary adaptations capture a very particular time and place. “Who Am I This Time ?, ” taken from three early Kurt Vonnegut stories, harks back to 1960s small-town America. “In the Time of the Butterflies,” based on the book by Julia Alvarez, revisits the terrifying reign of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and how it has impacted the Mirabal family for the past 75 years.
The four high-spirited daughters grew up protected in a lovely garden. But El Jefe had his eye on them; he had a penchant for young ladies, and he didn’t like their dubious political friends. After Minerva rebuffed his advances, their father was imprisoned and one by one, the sisters became activists in the June 14th political movement that plotted against the dictator. Code named Las Mariposas, the Butterflies, they were harassed and imprisoned. Dedé was reluctant to join them; she stayed safe, under the thumb of her husband. In 1960, when the other three were on their way to visit their spouses in jail, they were brutally murdered. Dedé was the only surviving sister, and to this day, she continues to tell the Butterflies’ story and keep their memories alive.
Dominican-American author Alvarez visited Dedé and from their conversations, created the gut-wrenching historical novel that was nominated for the National Book Award in 1994. Now, award-winning UCSD alumna Caridad Svich has written a marvelously lyrical, poetic stage rendition, which beautifully captures the essence of the book and the personalities of the sisters. The San Diego Repertory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of the English language version, excellently directed by Todd Salovey and Herbert Siguenza, who also appears as multiple characters, including a DJ who seems superfluous.
The cast is terrific, each Mirabal sister stunningly portrayed, against the wonderfully evocative scenic and projection designs of Ian Wallace. The harshness of the story is viewed through a haze of recollection and regret, underscored by Michael Roth’s heart-rending music, with live violin and angelic singing by the multi-talented ensemble.
Memory also figures prominently in “Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love),” Aaron Posner’s sweet but lightweight play in three parts, tied together by a folksy narrator reminiscent of the Stage Manager in “Our Town.” The setting is even a theater. But there’s little depth in these tales of young love, unlikely love and misplaced love. Nimble director Andrew Barnicle has marshaled an excellent cast that mines the wholesome humor, especially potent in the re-creation of scenes from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’
The Posner play about the heart makes you go Awww . The Svich adaptation that touches your heart leaves you thinking, ‘Oh my God.’
“In The Time of the Butterflies” runs through January 26 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
“Who Am I This Time?” continues through February 2 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2014 PAT LAUNER