by Ann Firestone Ungar
In the twenty-first century, because of omnipresent media, we’re more aware than ever before in history of politics at home and abroad. The globe’s turmoil finds its way into our living rooms and cellphones. If we’re lucky, it’s turmoil on TV. If we’re not, it’s turmoil outside our windows, or, in the extreme, within our own four walls. Consequently, it’s probably a good idea to think about the causes of turmoil because, to solve a problem, it’s often necessary to understand it.
“Golondrinas/Swallows,” which opened on April 16 at the venerable La Mama theatre, examines the problem of political turmoil in Venezuela. Two sisters (here played by men), one on the political right and the other on the left, explode at each other, exploring their past lives as children brutally abused by their father, drunk on his power. That father is dying symbolically in an empty armchair facing upstage. He’s the oblivious focus of his adult children’s conversation, and very much the representative of the patriarchal dictatorship against which a huge protest in the street below is taking place.
The sisters and their father are a microcosm of their society: the right, the left, and the dictator. To illustrate this visually, the spare set in the father’s single room apartment is full of the street demonstration through the use of upstage screen projections: visuals of the crowd, its flags, its patriotic face paint, its firepower. Sounds of the masses permeate the intimate dialogue in the apartment, suggesting this arresting premise of the talented playwright, Aminta De Lara. She posits that the dynamics of domestic life create the political person; and if domestic abuse can be prevented or resolved, so can the larger civil circumstance.
As the sisters reveal their personal histories of abuse, we come to understand their responses to it, moving from there to their politics. One placates the father and so ends up a supporter of the dictator. The other rebels, and so she is at least a vocal supporter of radical change. The actors, Howard Collado (Carmen Elena) and Robby Ramos (Claudia), bring to their roles considerable skill and passion. The result is clear and moving, a picture of contemporary Venezuela, deeply divided and struggling to maintain its sanity.
Because of the projections of the street demonstrations flowing into the apartment, there is an alienation effect. We sympathize with the personal histories of these sisters, and yet we’re removed because of the visual unreality. Consequently, when the sisters finally smother their father, it’s clearly a symbol of their mutual conclusion that the dictator must die. They themselves are swallows returning to their home, to their father, or to their father/mother land, to resolve their sad histories and the effects of the resulting larger political crimes.
In this production the feminine is represented by a poetic character named Patria, lovingly portrayed by Marion Elaine. The womb, with its attendant nurturing, promises rebirth, a welcome possibility in a dark and difficult drama.
Direction by the playwright is exemplary, as is the completely fluid and accessible translation by Francine Jacome (and a poem translated by James Cascaito). Music by Fina Monc and Maria Eugenia Atilano adds much to the intense and melancholy atmosphere.
Here is an opportunity to think. Take advantage of it. “Golondrinas” is well worth your time.
Written and directed by Aminta De Lara
WITH: Howard Collado (Carmen Alena), Robby Ramos (Claudia), and Marion Elaine (Patria).
Assistant Director, David Wasson; SinTeaTro Intimus Producer, Luisa De La Ville; Audio Visual Effects, Helena Acosta, Carlos Ayesta; Music, Gina Monc, Maria Eugenia Atilano; Photography and design, Violette Bule; Additional photography, Alejandro Cegarra, Natalie Keyssar, Francesca Commissar; Set and light design, Carlos Ayesta; English translation, Francine Jacome; Poem translation, James Cascaito. At La Mama, First Floor Theatre, 74a East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003, Box Office 646-430-5374, www.lamama.org, April 16-26, 2015, running time 1 hour, 20 minutes.