Talk­ing about our gen­er­a­tions

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - Amy Kuhre For The New Mex­i­can

The three main char­ac­ters in the Santa Fe pro­duc­tion of Parted Wa­ters are not the same men they were when Los Alamos play­wright Robert F. Ben­jamin first con­structed them on pa­per. Dur­ing the early stages of the script, grand­fa­ther, fa­ther, and son were all rough sketches of the fully re­al­ized Rey­naldo, Javier, and Miguel.

In­tro­duced as a com­pas­sion­ate soul and the play’s comic re­lief, grand­fa­ther Rey­naldo is a farmer and com­mu­nity leader. Ben­jamin de­scribes him as a de­scen­dant of con­ver­sos— the term refers to Jews or Mus­lims who con­verted to Catholi­cism to avoid be­ing ex­pelled from Spain or Por­tu­gal dur­ing the 14th and 15th cen­turies— and though he is out­wardly Catholic, he chooses to keep his Jewish an­ces­try a se­cret from most peo­ple, in­clud­ing his grand­son, Miguel. Rey­naldo’s son, Javier, was raised on the fam­ily farm but has grown dis­tant from his poor, sim­ple up­bring­ing, be­com­ing an ac­com­plished busi­ness­man who lives in the city. He has pur­pose­fully cut him­self off from farm life— aside from the an­nual clean­ing of the ace­quia, when he re­turns to help his fa­ther (without both­er­ing to change out of his suit).

Javier is de­picted as some­one who wishes to as­sim­i­late into An­glo cul­ture, re­fus­ing even to speak Span­ish. His fa­ther jok­ingly prods him in the beginning of the play by call­ing at­ten­tion to Javier’s bla­tant sar­casm as “gringo hu­mor.” As the play­wright ex­plained, Javier’s as­sim­i­la­tion has more to do with re­bel­lion against his fa­ther than it does with re­ject­ing his His­panic and crypto-Ju­daic her­itage.

“Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion faces its own form of re­bel­lion,” Ben­jamin ex­plained. “Javier rebels against his fa­ther by choos­ing to as­sim­i­late so thor­oughly into An­glo cul­ture. How­ever, the same is true for [Javier’s son] Miguel, who re­fuses to climb the cor­po­rate lad­der.”

Both men dis­cuss re­veal­ing their Jewish her­itage to Miguel. Rey­naldo feels his grand­son should have a chance to make up his own mind about how to ap­proach this as­pect of his an­ces­try, but Javier fears that if Miguel found out, it would im­pede his per­sonal and pro­fes­sional suc­cess.

Yet Miguel is not in­ter­ested in top­pling the com­pe­ti­tion to get ahead in the cor­po­rate world. A hy­drol­o­gist, he de­cides in­stead to run for a lo­cal of­fice, but as a sci­en­tist and first-time can­di­date, he knows lit­tle about the po­lit­i­cal process. To pre­pare for a de­bate, he en­lists the help of a young stu­dent, Rachel Gold­stein, who hap­pens to be the daugh­ter of his op­po­nent, Phyl­lis Gold­stein. As Rachel read­ies Miguel for the de­bate, she tells him to leave re­li­gion out of it.

Dur­ing the de­bate with Phyl­lis, Miguel is in­creas­ingly frus­trated by her in­ter­ven­tion­ist stance when it comes to lo­cal wa­ter rights. The squab­ble turns per­sonal when Miguel mis­con­strues her po­lit­i­cal agenda as an af­front to hard-work­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers like his grand­fa­ther. An eth­nic slur di­rected at Phyl­lis costs him the de­bate, and when his grand­fa­ther hears the news, he de­cides he must tell his grand­son the truth about the fam­ily’s back­ground.

At this point in the play, what this her­itage means for each man is re­vealed. For Rey­naldo, Ju­daism sup­ple­ments his spir­i­tu­al­ity by grant­ing him per­mis­sion to ques­tion God. For Javier, it con­tra­dicts the teach­ings of Catholi­cism and con­flicts with his de­sire for sta­tus in An­glo cul­ture. For Miguel, the rev­e­la­tion helps him un­der­stand why hate­ful re­marks cut so deeply.

Ben­jamin worked out the com­plex­i­ties of this plot af­ter sev­eral re­vi­sions writ­ten over a lit­tle more than two years. The Ari­zona Jewish The­ater Com­pany orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned Ben­jamin to write the play as a South­west­erner’s take on what has be­come a fa­mil­iar story in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to Ben­jamin, the his­tory of crypto-Ju­daism in New Mex­ico be­gan dur­ing the In­qui­si­tion, when some con­ver­sos fled to the NewWorld and of­ten main­tained se­crecy about their re­li­gious be­liefs.

Teatro Paraguas ob­serves this di­men­sion of lo­cal His­panic cul­ture with its pro­duc­tion of Parted Wa­ters. Creative di­rec­tor Ar­gos Mac­Cal­lum, who also plays the part of Rey­naldo, mused on some of the mes­sages his char­ac­ter helps bring to the play. “The play it­self speaks to the im­por­tance of har­mony in all things; har­mony with your­self, har­mony with the planet. Rey­naldo un­der­stands who he is through his re­la­tion­ship with the world around him. He is rep­re­sented as a very or­ganic fig­ure, and I’m im­pressed with Robert’s abil­ity to con­struct him in that way.”

For Javier, who at times might seem like the an­tag­o­nist, the main ob­jec­tive is to keep the fam­ily to­gether de­spite the chal­lenges they face. As Ben­jamin ad­mit­ted, it’s Javier who brings the fam­ily back to­gether af­ter Miguel’s po­lit­i­cal up­set.

But for Miguel, the hard­est part of per­sonal growth is ahead of him. Torn be­tween the self-ac­cep­tance Rey­naldo would like to see for his grand­son and the suc­cess that Javier wants him to achieve, it isn’t un­til the se­cret is re­vealed to Miguel that the story re­ally be­gins. Rey­naldo and Javier have both made their de­ci­sions about how best to cope with the re­al­ity of their past, and now, the fu­ture of their her­itage be­longs to Miguel.

Cul­tur­ally con­flicted: An­gelo Jaramillo as Miguel

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