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Antaeus Theatre Company’s West Coast premiere of Stephanie Alison Walker’s acclaimed new play explores questions of truth and identity amid the repercussions of Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
“If you have doubts about your identity, contact Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.” So read billboards across Argentina, where thousands of people were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983 under a brutal military dictatorship. Questions of truth and identity are explored when Antaeus Theatre Company presents the West Coast premiere of Stephanie Alison Walker’s striking new play, The Abuelas. Andi Chapman directs for an Oct. 11 opening at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale, where performances continue through Nov. 25. Low-priced previews begin Oct. 3.
The Abuelas explores the repercussions of Argentina’s “Dirty War” on one family.
In March of 1976, a military junta seized control of Argentina. Those opposed to the new government were told “to make themselves invisible, or they would be made to vanish.” By September of that year, the regime was already responsible for an average of 30 abductions each day. From these abductions, a new word came into common usage: desaparecidos, the “disappeareds." Among those detained and tortured were young pregnant women who rarely survived, and whose babies were then stolen and illegally adopted out to “politically acceptable” parents. Despite the atmosphere of fear promoted by the junta regime, two groups of women — representing the mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared — began protesting the disappearances of their relatives and striving for the reunification of their families. “The Madres” embarked on a crusade to obtain information about their missing children, demanding both the return of their children and punishment for their captors “The Abuelas” have a sharper focus: to find the living. They call them los desaparecidos con vida (“the living disappeared”), referring to the babies who had been taken from their murdered daughters and sons.
Walker, whose stepmother is Argentine, began researching both groups while living for a time in Buenos Aires. “This is a way I can help bring international attention to the situation and inspire the continued search for these lost grandchildren,” she says. “Number 130 was recently found, but an estimated 370 are still missing. It’s a way to get people talking, thinking, Googling at intermission.”
Argentine actress Luisina Quarleri stars as Gabriela, an Argentine concert cellist living in Chicago whose ordinary life is upended when she discovers a devastating secret from the past. The cast also features Argentine actors Irene De Bari and Carolina Montenegro, along with Denise Blasor, David DeSantos and Seamus Dever.
How does one go on after discovering her entire life is a lie? Does the restoration of truth bring freedom or suffering? Is it possible to integrate two identities into one life? The Abuelas explores these questions — as well as the heart’s capacity for forgiveness, even in the face of the harshest betrayal.
“If the disappeared had a voice I believe they would say, ‘Please move forward. Live your life, in victory and triumph!’,” says Chapman. “Stephanie’s beautiful, delicate play incorporates ethereal imagery — the sound of Gabriela’s cello, the turmoil of the ocean and the waves — to explore the impact of the political on the personal. This play gives hope to find those who haven’t yet been found.”
Developed in the Antaeus Playwright’s Lab, The Abuelas was a semi-finalist for the 2017 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, the winner of the 2018 Ashland New Plays Festival, and received its world premiere earlier this year from Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens in Chicago. It was written as a stand-alone companion piece to Walker’s The Madres, which was produced in 2018 by four theaters across the U.S. (including the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles) as part of a “Rolling World Premiere” from the National New Play Network. “Walker is a powerful and compassionate writer: both of these plays explore how ordinary people can and do become caught up in political horrors, even as they somehow have to keep living their lives,” wrote Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune.
Although Antaeus has presented new work in the past, including Native Son which Chapman directed, this is the first time the company will offer a full production of a play developed in its Playwrights Lab. The company’s production of The Abuelas will be immediately followed by a second new, Lab-developed play: Eight Nights by Jennifer Maisel will run Nov. 8 through Dec. 16. A rotating performance schedule is set for the weeks during which the two productions overlap.
“These two plays in particular struck us as being ‘Antaeus’ shows, having the kind of epic scope, historical sweep and largeness of theme that is our hallmark,” explain Antaeus co-artistic directors Bill Brochtrup and Kitty Swink. “Our hope is that, in addition to our reputation for producing the classics, Antaeus will become a place where future classics are created. Andi’s vision and understanding of the script’s aspects of magical realism as well as its down to earth human connections assure that this will be a riveting production.”
The creative team for The Abuelas includes scenic designer Edward E. Haynes Jr., lighting designer Andrew Schmedake, costume designer Wendell C. Carmichael, sound designer Jeff Gardner and projection designer Adam Macias — the same team that created the award-winning production design for Native Son — as well as properties designer David Saewert, choreographer Indira Tyler and dramaturg Ryan McRee. The assistant director is Jessica Williams and the production stage manager is Karen Osborne.
Hector Rombola, coordinator for Red Argentina Por el Derecho a la Identidad Canada/USA (Argentine Network for the Right to Identity Canada/USA) will be present at Antaeus on opening night.
The Abuelas opens on Friday, Oct. 11 and continues through Nov. 25. Performances take place on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 31 (dark Monday, Oct. 13) check the website for the performance schedule between Oct. 31 and Nov. 25, when performances will run in rotation with Eight Nights. Preview performances of The Abuelas begin Oct. 3. Seating is reserved, with all tickets priced at $35 except preview tickets, which are $15.
The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center is located at 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205 (between N. Brand Blvd. and Artsakh Ave.). The first 90 minutes of parking is free, then $2 per hour, in Glendale Marketplace garage located at 120 Artsakh Ave. (between Broadway and Harvard). The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 818-506-1983 or go to www.antaeus.org.
Presenter / Producer: Antaeus Theatre Company
Theater > Drama
Event Phone: 818-506-1983
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale CA 91205
North Hollywood / Burbank / Glendale
Performance Dates: 10/3/2019 - 11/25/2019
Previews Tues., Wed., Thurs.8:00 pm Fri., Sat.,Mon. 8:00 pm Sun. 2:00 pm
Previews $15 all performances $35
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