After seeing The Madres at Moxie Theatre, I understand why someone living in a totalitarian surveillance state would begin to “doublethink,” Orwell’s old chestnut about believing two contradictory ideas at once—sometimes it’s a survival mechanism.
Belén (Laura Jimenez) has been missing for three months, one of tens of thousands of suspected leftists or other dissidents who “disappeared” during Argentina’s rule by military junta in the late 1970s. Her mother, Carolina (Sandra Ruiz), marches every week in front of the presidential mansion as one of Las Madres, all of whom have missing children. Carolina refuses to accept the state’s lies and stay silent about what’s really happening to them, which troubles her own mother, Josephina (María González), to no end.
Josephina’s way of coping with how the coup has transformed her country and her family is as heart-wrenching as it is fascinating. She acknowledges the virtual certainty that Belén is in prison, and concedes that there must be a way to reach her, even bring her back—but at the same time, both to keep them from drowning in despair and from attracting unwanted attention, she implores Carolina to speak and act as if she really is just “vacationing in Paris.”
González is a dynamo; tasked with keeping the peace among a group of people constantly at risk of unraveling, her voice and gestures are as precise, controlled, and elegant as a conductor. Stephanie Alison Walker’s script, a rolling world premiere, loses some of its power and verges on didactic when its characters are finally given the chance to argue freely about the political conflict, but she and directors Maria Patrice Amon and Jennifer Eve Thorn have a keen sense for when and how much comic relief is appropriate to keep everyone grounded as living, feeling people rather than mouthpieces. Indeed, the entire first act—when these feelings must be kept at a whisper because no one’s sure whom they can trust—is deliciously tense and spellbinding.
John Padilla and Markus Rodriguez play the local priest and Belén’s childhood friend turned soldier, respectively; sharp examples of longstanding relationships that have been warped and tainted with suspicion. The former’s apologetic complacency and the latter’s entitled, simmering rage undeniably speak to the contemporary moment, and this pointed relevancy sometimes rises a little too close to the surface for my personal taste. (Then again, getting fired up is half the fun of coming to Moxie.) There are times when the cast nearly steps on one another to deliver all the dialogue they’ve been given—by contrast, an extended silence during an otherwise innocuous game is the play’s most powerful moment—but it all builds toward an innervating finale that will have you ready to take to the streets, join hands, and shout for justice.
Through June 10. Tickets at moxietheatre.com.
María González and Sandra Ruiz.| Photo: Daren Scott