The Search for Lost Children in Antaeus' The Abuelas

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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The search for the loved ones and children who have disappeared figures at the heart of The Abuelas, a new play by Stephanie Alison Walker about Argentina’s “dirty war.” Many Americans are completely unaware of  the numbers of people kidnapped by the Argentine government on flimsy charges and especially of pregnant women and girls who had their newborns snatched away to be given to military families.

 

Walker’s play centers on Gabriella (Luisina Quarleri), a brilliant musician and member of the Chicago Symphony whose Argentine mother, Soledad (Denise Blasor), has come to town in order to meet her new grandchild.   Her visit puts a strain on her daughter’s already taut marriage to Marty (Seamus Deaver).  Both the marriage and Gabriella’s self-identity are turned upside down when a new friend, César (David DeSantos), brings to dinner an uninvited guest. When it is revealed that the guest, Carolina (Irene De Bari), is Gabriella’s real grandmother, her secure life begins to unravel.

 

Walker’s depiction is never one-sided.  For instance, Gabriella’s confrontation with Soledad, who raised her, endeavors to present the adoptive mother’s emotional investment with as much intelligibility as that of her wronged child.  There are twists here as mezmerizing as any telenovela. However, this complex play might have become lugubrious in the hands of lesser talents than director Andi Chapman and Anteaus’ producing team.

Chapman’s light hand steers the actors with assurance; at times, though, she is betrayed by the well-executed but overly realistic set (designed by Edward E. Haynes) that does not afford spaces for the outdoor scenes, or the prison flashbacks.  Andrew Schmedake’s lighting endeavors to remedy the difficulty, pin-pointing specific areas.  Gabriella’s cello, natural sounds, as well as echoes of tortures past (designed by Jeff Gardner) help to move through the scenes.

One of the wonders of the background (projections by Adam R. Macias) is the three-deminsionality depicting the changing weather, and sometimes shifting locations, while Wendell C. Carmichael’s costuming cleverly unites pairs of characters using a subtle color pallette.

The Abuelas runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm and Mondays at 8:00 pm through November 25th at Anteaus Theatre Company’s Performing Arts Center,  110 East Broadway, Glendale, 91205. All tickets; $35.00, available online at www.anteaus.org.