Stephanie Alison Walker’s latest play, “The Abuelas,” (The Grandmothers) has had its stunning West Coast premiere at the elegant Antaeus Theatre under the vibrant direction of Andi Chapman. Gabriela (Luisina Quarleri), an Argentine-born concert cellist, and her American architect-husband, Marty (Seamus Dever), are an upscale, professional family in Chicago, celebrating the birth of their first child. Gabriela’s mother, Soledad (Denise Blasor) has flown in from Buenos Aries, and dominates her daughter. But Carolina (Irene De Bari), Gabriela’s potential real grandmother, and her younger companion, César (David DeSantos), have also flown in from Argentina to assess whether or not Gabriela might be one of those kidnapped children.
Because of their corruption and terrorizing, a major Argentinean military coup, lasting from 1976 until 1983, created an internal “dirty war,” a horrifying life for its citizenry, especially to its left-leaning populace and academic intellectuals. Upwards of 30,000 citizens are thought to have been executed by the Junta.
One of its more nefarious tactics was to take pregnant women, hold them until they gave birth, take their infants away, then drug the young women and drop their unconscious bodies out of helicopters into the ocean. Then the babies were given over for adoption to military families and rich rightwing supporters.
With their adult children murdered and their grandchildren “the living disappeared/los desaparecidos con vida”, the abuelas/grandmothers formed protest groups called The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (founded in 1977) and for years, until the coup was sent packing by the masses, loudly protested these murderous indignities. Before and after the military leaders were deposed, these women courageously put up billboards all across the country stating “If you have doubts about your identity, contact Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.”
When that information is revealed, havoc breaks out in the household: was Soledad aware of her adopted infant’s provenance and turned a fearful blinded eye to it, or was she kept in the dark? Walker’s fine-tuned play answers many of the questions, all of it in gripping reality.
Walker’s play also demands grim attention from Americans who watch a current corrupt government kidnap children from their asylum-seeking parents, putting some in cages, and possibly giving them up for adoption here. These suggestions are a bitter fruit that does not fall far from the tree.
On Edward E. Haynes, Jr’s attractive living room set, with a gorgeous wide- view of Lake Michigan in the distance (Adam R. Macias, Projection Designer), the actors all play up the tensions and betrayals, leaving none of their characters emotionally intact. Wendell C. Carmichael’s thoughtful costumes also cement where these characters are in their lives.
Quarleri and Blasor find hidden resources that bring the daughter/mother tensions to a hot boil, and DeSantos and Dever also find subtleties in their men’s reactions to the difficult news.
It’s a glorious evening of explored emotions, not to be missed or ignored.
“The Abuelas” plays in repertory with “Eight Nights” through November 25th at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center (Antaeus Theatre), 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. Tickets: 818.506.1983 or at www.facebook.com/AntaeusTheatre.