Spanish language production examines family ties

New York City-based acting group Repertorio Español visited Geneseo on Wednesday Oct. 30 to Thursday Oct. 31 to perform “En el Tiempo de las Mariposas,” a play that weaves together family, love, hope and tragedy. Drawn from a novel by Julia Alvarez, the play depicts the true story of the Mirabal sisters, who inspired a nationwide resistance against the Dominican Republic’s totalitarian dictator Rafael Trujillo played by Fermín Suárez. While the production was in Spanish, English subtitles were offered.

The production was organized largely by associate professor of Spanish Rose McEwen, who attempted to bring Repertorio last year, but due to Hurricane Sandy, the group was unable to travel to Geneseo. The Latin American studies department and Spanish Club also provided support, while the Center for Community and New York State Council on the Arts contributed funding. The performance was part of Geneseo’s annual Cultural Harmony Week.

The play incorporates themes such as familial sacrifice, relationships, empowerment and loss, intertwining them through flashbacks of the lives of Patria, Dedé, Maria Teresa or Mate, and Minerva – the four sisters whom the story focuses on. Laura Gómez, Teresa Pérez Frangie, Inés Garcia and Dalia Davi play the roles of the sisters.

The story follows the sisters from the mid 1940s through the 1960s, as Trujillo’s rule and influence over their personal lives grows stronger and more threatening. It continues as, one by one, three of the sisters are driven to take part in the underground rebellion against him.

The production was guaranteed to evoke a range of emotions in the audience, drawing them into the struggle the four girls face as they attempt to understand themselves and their place in the world during a time of extreme fear and repression.

“I have always believed theater is the best tool for combining language and culture because it contains both,” McEwen said.

For Suárez, who lived in the Dominican Republic for 25 years and currently performs with Repertorio, the purpose of the play is “to bring the reality of our history” to all who watch.  The production enlightens the audience to the injustices of Trujillo’s rule.

“The three-dimensional representation of historical effects,” McEwen said, allows viewers to “put flesh and bones on the characters.” This play is a far cry from notes in a history textbook. It evocatively translates the pain and desperation of those living in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic.

The play also provides students with a comprehensive understanding of Dominican culture. It includes traditional dancing and colloquial phrases and incorporates lessons in both history and daily life.

Immersion in the lives and motivations of the Mirabal sisters, as well as their suffering and tragic end, provides a pathos that cannot be replicated outside the theater.

The audience sits in Mate and Minerva’s jail cell with them, watches their father waste away with illness from prison, feels Minerva’s disgust as Trujillo attempts to rape her and sees Patria’s inner struggles with her as she questioned her faith in God.

“It is a universal story … It continues to happen all over the world,” Frangie said.