In 1977, the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” group was formed in Argentina to bring attention to abductions by the military dictatorship. The members’ daughters “disappeared,” after the military junta started a “Dirty War” targeted at the left-wing organizations fighting the government.
Stephanie Alison Walker’s original play, The Madres, is set two years after the Argentine group was founded. Her show is being presented by the Moxie Theatre as a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.
Inside a Buenos Aires apartment, an unhappy mother Carolina (Sandra Ruiz) is convinced that her missing daughter, Belena, has been abducted. Although her mother, Josefina (Maria Gonzalez) optimistically believes that Belena might be safe, Carolina isn’t sure if she’ll ever see her again.
Carolina doesn’t trust the two men who begin to visit Josefina’s apartment, one, an old friend of Josefina’s, Padre Juan (John Padilla), and the other, Diego (Markus Rodrigez), a soldier who has an unrequited crush on Belena. She believes that bad things could happen if they learn about Belena’s possible abduction and captivity.
Walker’s script treats the central subject matter in a tough and unsentimental fashion, and there are instances when Josefina and Carolina’s quest to find Belena might end in failure.
At the same time, however, The Madres works as a mother-daughter story as Josefina and Carolina spend plenty of time together. When they are first introduced to the audience, the two have a humorous but tense relationship. They eventually grow closer, owing to their common search.
Gonzalez and Ruiz convincingly depict a realistic family connection, warts and all. Their initially restrained performances grow in impact as more information is revealed about Belena.
Walker’s fresh tale does have a few instances where the dialogue can be either a little repetitive or out of left field. Josefina repeats quite a few times that she hasn’t seen Juan in five-years, and there is a sequence when Carolina calls her situation hopeless, shortly after stating that she is starting to feel a little bit of hope. These types of moments don’t get in the way of the story or its increasingly grim tone.
The audience, and parents in particular, may be troubled by the factual information shared about the Argentinians that were either kidnapped or killed as a result of the “Dirty War.”
Comedic dialogue isn’t absent from the evening. Josefina’s straightforward and honest attitude, for instance, leads to some humorous dialogue between her and the other characters. Although the audience is never really sure if they should like the Juan or Diego characters, the two have some funny moments, mainly because of Padilla and Rodriguez’s committed acting.
The only time that comic relief feels a little excessive is when Juan and Diego take part in games at Josefina’s home. While I admit I laughed during this part of the play, it provides a major contrast to the rest of the tale.
In addition to the fine acting and Walker’s writing, several members of the creative team keep the audience invested in Josefina and Carolina’s lives. Directors Maria Patrice Amon, and co-founder and artistic director Jennifer Eve Thorn, build suspense as the women continue to interact with Juan and Diego. By not speeding through the major incidents that occur during the play, the storytellers create an uneasy atmosphere that continues through the climax.
Alondra Velez’s set allows Josefina’s residence to feel both pleasant and potentially dangerous, and Danita Lee’s costumes are appropriate for every person in The Madres.
A highlight of Haley Wolf’s sound design is the music used for Josefina’s record player. Wolf’s selections add to the handful of witty and dramatic parts of the show.
While the facts that inspired The Madres might be familiar to some, it is likely that a lot of younger theatregoers won’t know a lot about the events that inspired Walker’s drama. She is able to craft an educational experience that still has room for emotional investment.
Far from an easy watch, Moxie continues to produce plays that will linger in your memory long after the curtain call is over. Walker’s dramatic theatrical piece is an eye-opening introduction to a shocking period of history.