THEATER REVIEW: “In The Time Of The Butterflies" at San Diego Rep

Butterflies are known to flutter around and light on many flowers without spending much time in any one spot. Playwright Caridad Svich does much the same in her memory play “In The Time Of The Butterflies,” playing through Jan. 26 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

Dictators don’t last forever. Sooner or later the winds of revolution and change grow too strong. Sometimes opposition comes from unexpected places.

The play, a translation to the stage of Julia Alvarez’s 1994 historical novel of the same name, is about four sisters and their involvement in the movement that finally toppled Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo, who took power in 1930 and ruled by force if not by law until his assassination in 1961. This is the world premiere of the English language version of the piece.

The play centers on 20-some years in the lives of the real-life Maribal sisters, born to privilege under repressive Trujillo rule (though in the right social circles). At the beginning, they range in age from Patria (Elisa Gonzales), the eldest, in her early 20s to the youngest, Maria Teresa (Maritxell Carrero), who is 10. In between are Dede (Sandra Ruiz) and Minerva (Jacqueline Grace Lopez).

We see them as children and young women, hear about them in their diaries and from our narrator, Older Dede (Catalina Maynard), who exists “in suspended time.”

It’s a disquieting and rather confusing mix of memory play, poetic description, didactic exposition and family drama that, like a butterfly, never seems to alight anywhere long enough to allow a coherent picture. Time shifts and lyrical digressions sidetrack the plot.

Yet that languid lyricality also conveys the Dominican sensibility nicely. And consider the music: the sisters sing “The Flowers of Santo Domingo” and DJ (Hebert Siguenza) plays the jaunty dance tune “Muévete.” And a lone violin played by Batya MacAdam-Somer adds a soulful touch.

Production values are high, from Anastasia Pautova’s period costumes to Ian Wallace’s evocative projections and Kristin Swift Hayes’ moody lighting.

The acting is first-rate, from Carrero’s exuberant Maria Teresa and Lopez’s activist Minerva to Gonzales’ devout Patria and Ruiz’s young Dede (the lone activist holdout).

Mayard is a welcome and steady influence as narrator Older Dede, though on opening night she occasionally rushed her lines.

Siguenza – who also serves as co-director, along with Todd Salovey – plays all the men, including Minerva’s husband Lio and cab driver Rufino.

This play has a lot going for it, but Svich needs to decide how important the Mirabals’ revolutionary activities were and write accordingly. The program tells us three of the sisters were pivotal, but we never see it or know exactly what they did to incur such wrath from Trujillo that he eventually had them killed.

Maybe Older Dede makes the real point: “That’s what we are: witnesses to and of history, truth and memory.”

The details

“In The Time Of The Butterflies” plays through Jan. 26 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.