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THEATER REVIEW The Madres
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-05-02

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Playwright: Stephanie Alison Walker. At: Teatro Vista at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $20-$45; www.teatrovista.org . Runs through: May 27

Don't be fooled by the convivial chat of the priest making a friendly visit to an elderly widow in the first scene of this Teatro Vista production.

Padre Juan's nostalgia for sentimental love songs and Senora Josefina's home-baked medialunes camouflages inquiries into treasonous activities, just as his hostess' pride in her granddaughter Belen's accomplishments as a film student in Paris conceals her fear that the pregnant young newlywed is being detained in a government prison. Later, a baby shower—devised as a subterfuge to precipitate a compassionate release—is thwarted by the guest of honor's arrival in the company of family friend Diego Hernandez, now a soldier in Argentina's civic-military junta. Even the title of our play has a double meaning.

The "mothers" of the Acosta household, you see, are no ordinary Marianist matrons, but Stephanie Alison Walker's microcosmic representation of the parents who march in silent recrimination before the gates of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires from 1978 to the present day—their purpose, to call attention to the Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional's policy of rounding up anyone suspected of dissident affiliations to be jailed, questioned, tortured and often murdered. The victims of this persecution are called "los desaparecidos" ( "the disappeared" ), many of whom continue to be the focus of DNA searches by families seeking to learn their fates, or the fates of children born in captivity to be raised in foster homes.

North American audiences unaware of this subtext to the most casual conversations may misunderstand the evasive tone permeating our introduction to a universe we free U.S. citizens can only imagine, but the entrance of daughter Carolina, wearing the white headscarf of the Plaza de Mayo protesters, reveals the risks involved in the plan to rescue their youngest relative. By the time the maternity party has commenced ( where the balloon-bearing GI will succumb to PTSD during a game involving blindfolds ), we are fully cognizant of the danger lurking beneath the joviality.

Walker sometime appears to favor issues over character—her ambivalence regarding Diego's zeal for his inhumane duties, for example—but under the direction of Ricardo Gutierrez, the trio of Ivonne Coll, Lorena Diaz and Ilse Zacharias endow our three generations of child-bearers making their journey from helpless terror to concerted action with the courage and dignity of classic tragedy's Trojan Women.


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