In this blog post, the second part of a two-part series featuring interviews with the cast of Sonia Flew, we get political: delving into how the play, which takes place at two very dramatic periods in history, relates to our current cultural struggle, both politically and socially. More importantly perhaps, the cast begins to draw conclusions as to what lessons can be learned from the world of the play for its audience members. An overarching theme? We – natives and immigrants alike – truly are stronger together.
One of the most important aspects of this play, which you only have three more chances to see live, is the intimate space it takes place in. In the second section of the post, we discuss what exactly is so unique and, really, great about small theaters for both the actor and the audience. Do not miss your chance to see this tremendous play, 781.283.2000 for tickets to the final three performances!
Do you think there are parallels to be drawn between the world of Sonia Flew, particularly as it relates to 1960s Cuba, and our current political and social climates?
Woody Gaul: It is a crazy time that we are in right now and I think it is hard to hold onto the truth in a time like today where there is so much information coming from everywhere and so many mistruths. This play that we are doing right now is a hotbed where, in the Cuba act specifically, they are in the middle of this revolution in which they do not know what is going to happen and do not know how drastic the changes will be. Looking at it through 21st century eyes, we can see that it did not just end, none of it did get brushed aside and they are under this communist rule still. For the 2001 act, to look back and see that this mission we thought would be over in a couple of months and perhaps the character Zac might not even go to war post-enlisting…today we look back and see the devastation. To look at the precipice of the world right now with all its uncertainty, not just in this country, but throughout the world, we know we have to fight for what we believe in and what is right for your country and yourself and your family. I think it is really incredible what Melinda [Lopez] is able to do with this play, looking at a world view, a national view, and then break it down further into a family unit and an individual’s role in all of the above.
Luis Negron: Absolutely. The play went up in ’04 and all these years later it still resonates, because we are talking about people being displaced and being displaced for political reasons. Whether it is the current administration “cleaning house” or the Castro regime “cleaning house” for different reasons, they are both doing the same thing: they are dividing families. Instead of working from within to change, they are pushing people out the door. That is what Sonia Flew introduces, this concept of all these children that are displaced and who are forced to leave and be separated from their families because of political strife.
Mariela Lopez-Ponce: Yes, in many ways. There are the obvious ones, the parallels in immigration which is a constant thread for this country, not just now, though we do currently have very specific challenges. I also think the play is timeless because the themes of family and the dynamics of a family – and you see it in both settings of the play [Wisconsin and Havana, Cuba] – the really challenging issues that parents and children face as the kids are growing and trying to create their own identity. Particularly for Sonia in the first act there is a theme of adults as partners and as parents grappling with things that the rest of the family really does not or cannot understand. There is a very interesting line that the son says to Sonia which (paraphrasing) goes: You think it is behind you, you think it doesn’t affect you, but it is not. That is really true and it is important to realize how that concept has roots in every other member of the family. They are timeless themes, but very powerful ones.
Ed Peed: We are facing our own revolution – or rather, anti-revolution, with the government revolting against its people. There are definite parallels on a global scale: some flew and some died. I hope this won’t continue much longer. The current administration in Washington are a morally and spiritually bankrupt administration in toto. I am from Alabama and we dealt with Jeff Sessions for many, many years down there. It was not a pretty sight.
Nancy Tutunjian Berger: In some ways. It is not identical of course, but it is safe to say that our country is going through some difficult changes right now. A lot of things are coming to the surface and I think there is a certain level of unrest that centers around the whole immigration issue. This play is about people in a country who are living in turmoil and so they are trying to find a way to deal with that – an alternative way to deal with that. I think we are on the other end of the spectrum here trying to sort out how do we want to handle immigration and immigration in certain areas and how do we want to deal with that? So I think we are sort of on the flip side of what the Cuban half went through. There are lessons to be learned at that level from Sonia Flew’s story.
Brigitte Demelo: I think so. This is a play about immigrants and what it feels like to be stuck between two countries, so I feel like that resonates with a lot of people today esp. in light of the recent political shift.
Karina Ithier: Sonia Flew is really about family. For me especially in the first act, when everything is going crazy and Zac is heading off to war, with the tensions that come to the family through that, and Sonia is remembering her past of when she was sent from Cuba but she doesn’t want to share any of it. There is a lot of tension and misunderstanding/miscommunication and sacrifice for the family. Today, with the administration we have not really understanding people’s sacrifices and what they leave behind when they come her as well as why they come here and what matters – we have such a bad rep with immigrants and I think esp. today I think think it is really important to show that we need to pay attention to people’s stories. They are us, they are people with stories. If we were to actually listen, perhaps we could create some change. I think theatre has the way to uncover those voices you might not necessarily hear.
When many people think of theatre they think of large markets such as New York and L.A. What do you think is the benefit of a smaller market and, to go further, a smaller playhouse, for both the actor and the audience member?
Luis Negron: Smaller theaters are generally more affordable, which means that they are more accessible. When we talk about the large theaters we are talking tickets that might be as low as $40 or they might be as high as over $100 (more for big ticket shows). That makes theatre inaccessible for a lot of people. I think that defeats the purpose of theatre. Theatre is meant to inform: we are the story tellers and if we can’t have a broad audience with whom we can tell the story we are kind of screwed. What are we here for?
Setting aside the affordability factor for a moment, when you come to a smaller theatre, it is a much more intimate experience – you are not 47 rows away from the action, you are right up in our faces – literally, we can see your eyes – and they see us and, whether they realize it or not, they are in the scene with us. The emotions are often felt more deeply then. The audience does not have to struggle with “what did they say?” No, they are right there, only a few feet away from us. It is almost as if we came into your living room. You are sitting on the sofa and we are right in front of you. I like it much better.
Ed Peed: I prefer the Boston theatre market. It is more like a family: Everyone knows everyone here. Living in New York…well, I have no earthly desire. Its a good place to vacation for a few days or for a week, but I would never in my wildest imagination live there. This is a much more reasonable town and much more comfortable. There is much more of a solid community. New York is city of many communities all jammed together. There is more room to develop as an artist here and more opportunity to do so…and the people are nicer.
Mariela Lopez-Ponce: I love the small playhouse, certainly for plays like this one. A few audience members have actually commented on how this play is very intimate. In both acts, it is a family setting, it is a very emotional play in many ways, and having that close proximity makes the audience feel there – in that home, at that dinner table. For a show like this, that proximity is part of the energy that has to happen. I love that connection and feeling that – you know, sometimes when we play we are a foot away from the audience – there’s nothing like that. I love the Boston theatre scene, there is a tremendous amount of talent of all ages and a lot of small theaters doing very interesting and very risky things that often in a larger market might not be attempted. Small, independent theaters are doing really interesting work: very interesting plays, unique ways of staging them. So I think it is a very rich market.
Woody Gaul: We are very fortunate here at Wellesley Repertory Theatre because we do not have as many of the restrictions of many of the bigger houses even in Boston and as many demands to commercially succeed, so Nora [Hussey, Artistic Director] is really able to choose plays that she loves and her directors love and that are right for this community. I am glad that she has been able to fully see through and accomplish her vision in such a great way, building a strong repertory company that at its heart really does and greatly can promote the Wellesley students and afford them the opportunity to have a professional company right in their backyard. This theatre space is so unique in that it can completely reconfigure itself each time. I have done around 12 productions in this space and there are so many setups for the Ruth Nagel that I’ve seen the designers take advantage of. It is really interesting to see loyal patrons come in and ask where they should sit for this specific show – here, you never know what world you are going to come into. There are so many different possibilities.
In New York, there is so much of everything, everybody goes there. So unless you are on the equity level, it is difficult to break into the scene and really understand what you are getting into. In Boston, everything is a lot more accessible and open. It has been a really positive, supportive experience and truly there is a great theatre family throughout Boston. This city is such a large college town, so it has a really young, continuing, fresh life that continues to flow through it in really interesting, unique ways.
Karina Ithier: There is a sort of intimacy with theatre and its location. Theatre is something special for the community it takes place in. Theatre, for me, is a space where you can tell counter narratives, stories that are important for the community to hear and evolve from. I think it is important to keep in mind that this is not simply for entertainment, but rather these are real stories and narratives that people can relate to and can perhaps help someone. Therefore, the intimacy of a small theatre is that you carry a story that is important for the community to share, experience, and become closer to each other through by understanding each other more.
Nancy Tutunjian Berger: When you are in a small space like this it is as if the audience has the opportunity to be in the play, because they are up so close. For the actor, this is nice because they see the subtleties and you don’t have to project to the back of the 1,500 seat auditorium. You can really play the subtleties and your ability to feed off of the audience is greater, creating an intimacy.
As far as it being a smaller theatre community, that fact is great because it is six degrees of separation: it is like a web that connects you, making it a little easier to get work or to get into some of the different venues. In short, it is a smaller, more connected community.
Brigitte Demelo: I love this space [The Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre]!. I have actually had a lot of plays down here and any plays I have been a part of upstairs [in the larger Alumnae Hall theatre space], we have converted the space into a small, blackbox theatre on the stage. I love these intimate quarters where you can look a person in the audience in the eye and feel a presence there. As if they are acting in the scene with us.