Talking about our generations
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