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Theater Review: “The Madres”

“The Madres” plays through June 10, 2018, at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard in the SDSU area. 
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

Playwright Stephanie Alison Walker’s “The Madres” memorializes the public protests of Argentinian women against the repressive (and murderous) rightwing junta that deposed Isabel Perón in 1976, and promptly proceeded to eliminate opposition by means of arrests, imprisonment, torture and murder. Some 30,000 “enemies” just disappeared and were never seen again. They are   called “desaparecidos.”

In 1977, several Argentinian women who had lost a loved one banded together – calling themselves the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – and organized a protest march in front of the junta’s headquarters (the former naval military school known as ESMA). They gathered strength and have marched every Thursday since 1977 (some are still marching in hopes of finding out what happened to their loved ones).

Moxie Theatre specializes in theater by and about women, so It seems fitting that “The Madres” (which portrays the effect of “el Proceso” on one family) appears on Moxie’s stage just as another women’s movement (inspired by the #MeToo phenomenon) is gaining steam in the U.S.

“The Madres,” in a rolling world premiere, plays through June 10 under the assured direction of Maria Patrice Amon and Jennifer Eve Thorn.

Josefina (María González) putters around her Buenos Aires apartment, ironing and vacuuming, all the while worrying about daughter Carolina – an activist putting her life at risk every day – and granddaughter Belén, who has disappeared.

Josefina is surprised – even frightened – by the doorbell, and especially nonplused when she sees Father Juan (John Padilla), a former parish priest who now works at ESMA, now an infamous detention (and murder) center for political undesirables.

It’s almost painful to watch Josefina dance around conversational niceties, when she clearly wants to blurt out “Where is my granddaughter?” Instead, she offers the freshly made medialunas (sweet mini-croissants) for which she is famous, and gives him the makings of the local maté (an infused drink made from the dried leaves of yerba mate).

Finally, the purpose of the padre’s visit is named. He warns Josefina to stop Carolina from marching with the Madres. He mentions that he has “heard” that Carolina’s daughter, the pregnant Belén, is a desaparecida. The threat is clear though not explicit.

In a supreme demonstration of hypocrisy, the priest convinces Josefina to join him in praying for Belén before he leaves.

When Carolina returns (wearing the telltale white scarf of the Madres), the women weigh their options. Josefina has heard that sometimes the junta will bring a desaparecida to visit the family in hopes they can then be persuaded to give information the junta wants.

Josefina suggests that they throw a baby shower for Belén and invite Padre Juan and Belén’s high-school boyfriend Diego (Markuz Rodriguez), now a soldier working at ESMA who has thrown his lot in with the junta and now wants to question Belén’s musician husband Agustín, suspected of anti-junta sentiments.

The “party” is another excruciating scene, but it does at least have the desired effect: Diego brings Belén (Laura Jimenez), looking pale, tired and very pregnant.

Walker’s taut script, excellent direction, and these fine actors keep the fear and suspense levels at a nearly unbearable level throughout, reminding us once again how fragile freedom and democracy are.

Alonda Vélez’s ’70s-look set is complemented nicely by Danita Lee’s costumes. Alex Crocker’s lighting and Haley Wolf’s sound design add to the atmosphere.

It is estimated that 30,000 Argentinians were “disappeared” and never seen again. The Madres began marching in front of the Casa Rosada in 1977 and are still at it. Now focused on building a DNA database of the children who were taken from their parents and farmed out to military families under different names. To date, they have found 114 grandchildren.

Don’t miss this fine, thought-provoking production.

The details

“The Madres” plays through June 10, 2018, at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard in the SDSU area. 

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (858) 598-7620 or www.moxietheatre.com