A brutal civil war’s effects on the lives and psyches of the residents of a pair of neighboring Latin American villages gets examined—and grippingly so—in Martín Zimmerman’s gut-wrenchingly powerful Seven Spots On The Sun, now being given the kind of West Coast Premiere at Pasadena’s The Theatre @ Boston Court that most young playwrights can only dream of.
Though Zimmerman could have set his play anywhere in the world where popularly elected governments find themselves at constant risk of a military coup-d’état , the golpe in question happens to have taken place south of the U.S. border.
It is there that we get our initial glimpse of a pair of locals attempting to coax music out of the first radio their village has seen since the military swept through months before cutting power lines and smashing every radio in sight.
It takes a while for Wilmer and Alamar (Michael Uribes and Daniel Penilla) to get the stolen Sony to working but once they do, the cumbia that fills the air has the entire village of San Ysidro dancing and, as one of them puts it, “quickly mak[ing] up for eighteen months without radio, eighteen months of daily battle with my darkest thoughts. I dance to shake the pain out of every limb, to sweat and sweat till you’ve purged the war from every pore.”
Every one of them dances, except Moisés (Jonathan Nichols), for reasons that will eventually become clear.
In alternating flashback sequences, we meet two couples living in neighboring villages whose lives will soon intertwine to life-altering effect.
Luis and Mónica (Christopher Rivas and Natalie Camunas) are young marrieds celebrating Luis’s purchase of a washing machine (a luxury few miners can afford), that is until Mónica discovers that to come up with the cash, her husband has enlisted in the military and will soon be off risking his life fighting supporters of the pre-junta government.
Three years pass, and though the village of San Ysidro has somehow managed to escape unscathed, that calm ends when the army goes on the offensive, and this time it’s not merely “a severed head or arm as a sign of their commitment to the cause” but the barely breathing body of brutally battered young man left in the town square to die a slow, painful death before the eyes of a cowed citizenry.
Town physician Moisés would like nothing better than to play deaf to the young man’s anguished cries, but he eventually allows his wife Belén (Murielle Zuker) to convince him to nurse the man back to health, a plan that might just have worked had the military not returned, discovered empty ground in place of a body, and set off door to door in search of whoever defied orders not to lift a finger to save the man.
With little time to spare, Moisés and Belén carry the man to the village church for sanctuary, and it is there that Father Eugenio makes a decision of far-reaching consequences.
With its dramatic, action-filled plot and its rich cast of characters, Seven Spots On The Sun would make a fantastic film, the kind that just might score an Oscar nomination for Venezuela or Colombia or Argentina, and these elements do indeed contribute to its edge-of-your-seat qualities as a play.
Still, cinematic as it can be at Boston Court, with Michael John Garcés directing brillianlty and an absolutely superb production design team at work, Seven Spots On The Sun makes for a profoundly theatrical experience.
Much of the play’s theatricality comes from Zimmerman’s use of a three-member Latino Chorus dubbed The Town, whom he dubs “the engine of the play,” who not only narrate but bring to individualized life assorted villagers woven like intricate threads into the story.
Zimmerman’s script has a poetic quality too (see paragraph three) that makes it particularly apt for a stage production (with just enough español to give it sabor latino without confusing non-Spanish speakers).
Bits of magical realism are scattered throughout as well, with Tom Ontiveros’s dramatically animated video design adding moments that are both magic and real.
Performances could not be finer.
Townspeople Dianna Aguilar, Penilla, and Uribes anchor the play, propel the plot, and provide local color—and all three are superb.
Camunas and Zuker give girl-next-door Mónica and angelic Belén layers of love and compassion and fire, while McCabe’s equally splendid Eugenio reveals the consequences that must be paid when the town’s moral compass proves insufficient to the task.
Most memorable of all are Nichols’ Moisés and Rivas’s Luis, men deformed by war and loss, the former turned hard as nails, the latter into a shell-shocked shadow of the man he once was, the two actors both keeping me riveted and moving me to tears.
A co-production of The Theatre @ Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Seven Spots On The Sun benefits enormously from the world-class production design Boston Court regulars have come to expect.
Scenic designer Sara Ryung Clement makes ingenious use of hidden windows and doors and corrugated steel panels, the latter becoming an integral part of John Nobori’s dramatic sound design. Ontiveros’s lighting design alternates between the stark and the gorgeous, while Garry Lennon’s costumes add enormously to the production’s realism while aiding actors in creating their individual characters. Bethany Tucker’s gritty properties complete Seven Spots On The Sun’s all-around superb design package.
Kate Sullivan Gibbens is assistant director. Matthew Quinlan is dramaturg. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Julie Ouellette is production stage manager.
Karina Alós, Arianna Ortiz, Peter Pasco, Gastón Pérez, Hector S. Quintano, and Gabriel Romero are understudies
The Theatre @ Boston Court prides itself on work that is “inherently theatrical, textually rich, and visually arresting.” Seven Spots On The Sun fulfills all three of these requirements and then some. It is mesmerizing, thought-provoking, and deeply moving theater @ its Boston Court best.
The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.
October 4, 2105
Photos: Ed Krieger