Stephanie Allison Walker’s THE MADRES, now in a Teatro Vista production as part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, is a gut punch of a play. Set in 1979 Buenos Aires, Argentina, THE MADRES follows three generations of women in a family during La Guerra Sucia (“Dirty War”). Under the Dirty War, the Argentine military went after anyone within the country thought to be subversive or connected to socialism. Those taken hostage became known as Los Desaparecidos (“The Disappeared”). The titular Madres in Walker’s play are the mothers of the disappeared, who would march in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires to demand the return of their loved ones. Though Walker’s play highlights a moment in Argentina’s history, her portrait of the silencing of voices, the torture of loved ones, and the women who rose up against injustice finds complete alignment with the present moment.
THE MADRES is astounding as well for bringing this devastating part of Argentina’s history to life through the story of the family at the center of the piece. Walker has so profoundly humanized the situation at hand, and seeing THE MADRES was an intensely emotional experience. Of course, the heart-wrenching emotion embedded in the play is further emphasized by Teatro Vista’s cast, guided by Artistic Director Ricardo Gutiérrez at the helm.
Many audience members will likely recognize Ivonne Coll in the role of head matriarch Josefina. Coll, widely known for her portrayal of Alba Villanueva in JANE THE VIRGIN, provides a master-class in acting and fully demonstrates her ability to command the stage. Coll has an uncanny ability to play each moment for maximum effect without ever making it feel like she’s pushing too hard. And though THE MADRES is an overwhelmingly heavy play, Coll finds as many moments as she can to lean into her lovably droll sense of humor: her dry and wry delivery of many early lines of dialogue is perfection. She plays the more tragic moments of THE MADRES equally well, ending the play with a stunning delivery of a monologue that left not a dry eye in the house.
Coll is in excellent company here. As her daughter Carolina, Lorena Diaz finds deep emotional honesty as she worries about her young pregnant daughter Belen (Ilse Zacharias), who is among the disappeared. Diaz has a grounded energy for much of the play, but she also demonstrates in every moment the fears that hover in her character’s mind. Her character arc culminates in a moment of devastating emotional release in the play’s second act. Ramón Camín strikes an apt balance as Padre Juan, a priest and family friend who has since become a chaplain for the Argentine military. Camín in moments appears sweet and nails his character’s ability to deflect, while also coming across as appropriately discomfiting. As government soldier Diego, Felipe Carrasco positively makes the skin crawl with his line delivery and his transformation as a fierce abuser of his power. As Belen, Zacharias is heartbreakingly sweet. Watching Coll, Diaz, and Zacharias together is both a joy and absolutely devastating given the circumstances; these three women truly act as a family unit.
Jose Manuel Diaz Soto’s inviting, comfortable set design and Uriel Gomez’s primarily cheerful costumes invite us into the world of the play. The design elements early on wrap audiences in a comforting sense of home, which contrasts with the harsh emotional journey that the play goes down. THE MADRES is not an easy play to watch, but that means that Walker has succeeded in what she intended for the piece to do. Teatro Vista’s cast is first-rate and owns every moment of the piece. In terms of timeliness and emotional impact, THE MADRES demands to be seen. This is one of the strongest productions I’ve seen recently in terms of its ability to command raw emotion; it is impossible to leave THE MADRES without feeling deeply for the characters on the stage.
Teatro Vista’s THE MADRES plays through May 27 at the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $20-$45. Visit TeatroVista.org.
Photo Credit: Joel Maisonet
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