Bilingual ‘Butterflies’ play soars in Mayan Hall

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IRON BUTTERFLIES - Dominican Republic freedom fighters Dede and Minerva Mirabal (Teresa Gonzales and Lauren Martinez) fought to overthrow a dictatorship in the 1950s. SWC's bilingual production was also revolutionary. PHOTO BY April Abarrondo

IRON BUTTERFLIES – Dominican Republic freedom fighters Dede and Minerva Mirabal (Teresa Gonzales and Lauren Martinez) fought to overthrow a dictatorship in the 1950s. SWC’s bilingual production was also revolutionary. PHOTO BY April Abarrondo

Butterflies come from humble beginnings, bloom into creatures of exquisite beauty, then leave this world way too soon.

So it was for the three Mirabal sisters, otherwise known as “Las Mariposas” (The Butterflies). Rebels and sisters-in-arms, they were willing to do whatever it took to bring justice to their beloved Dominican Republic, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.

A dedicated cast and crew brought their harrowing story to life at Mayan Hall in a successful performance of “In the Time of the Butterflies” / “En El Tiempo De Las Mariposas.”

The play was staged in two separate performances, one in English, the other in Spanish.

Directed by Sandra Cortez and adapted by award-winning playwright Caridad Svich from Julia Alvarez’s novel of the same name, “Butterflies” is a fictional telling of the real-life Mirabal sisters, who were part of the 14th of June Movement, an underground uprising dedicated to overthrowing the fascist dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.

There is fiery Minerva (English: Lauren Martinez, Spanish: Teresa Gonzalez), paternal Patria (English: Cynthia Galaz Ochoa, Spanish: Estefania Mendoza) and fragile Maria Teresa (Erika Laforcada in both versions).

Their other sister Dede (younger version played by Gonzalez in English and Andrea Contreras in Spanish, older version played in English by Bibiana Salazar and in Spanish by Ochoa) serves as narrator, recounting their story to an American reporter (Grecia Juarez in both versions).

Both performances had strengths and weaknesses.

While Gonzalez gave a formidable performance as Minerva in the Spanish version, she delivered a much better, nuanced rendering as young Dede in the English.

The part of Minerva seemed a better fit for Martinez in the English version. Martinez played the character with the zest of a seasoned actress, showcasing the phenomenal ability of her range. She was able to go from brave ferocity to tender vulnerability in the span of a single line.

Highlighting the production, Ochoa stole the show in each of her respective roles. Resembling a young Salma Hayek, Ochoa was a powerhouse of emotion. In a tender and harrowing display, Ochoa delivered Patria’s church monologue, showing her sobbing over the loss of her child and pleading with God to help protect her and her sisters. While Mendoza gave it her all in the Spanish version, Ochoa’s performance was more emotionally challenging.

Ochoa’s portrayal of older Dede in the Spanish version also eclipsed Salazar’s unmemorable performance in the English version. Ochoa gave a quiet and layered presentation.

While Laforcada’s performance as Maria Teresa seemed to get lost in the shuffle of the English version, she more than made up for in her bold and memorable Spanish performance.

As the sole male member of the cast, Jorge Becerra gave four memorable performances in both languages: the cocky and hilarious Disc Jockey who serves up some tasty tunes, the shy yet revolutionary Lio, who first gets the sisters involved in the uprising, the bumbling chauffer Rufino and El Jefe himself, Trujillo.

Michael Buckley’s brilliant set brought the blistering heat and stale, salty smell of the Caribbean Sea to the Mayan Hall stage, while Elisa Benzoni’s costume work transported audience members to the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.

“In the Time of the Butterflies / En El Tiempo De Las Mariposas” was phenomenal, much like a conspicuous butterfly, fragile yet ferocious in its tenacity to live.

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