In the time of the but­ter­flies

Our Lady of Mari­posas

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Teatro Paraguas presents Our Lady of Mari­posas

IN 2002, there was a ter­ri­ble storm in the Oyamel fir forests high in the Transvol­canic moun­tains above Mexico City, the win­ter habi­tat of many monarch but­ter­flies. The plum­met­ing tem­per­a­tures, com­bined with illegal de­for­esta­tion that had thinned the for­est, left the but­ter­flies ex­posed to the el­e­ments — where they used to be kept warm — and hun­dreds of mil­lions of them died. For months no one knew how many had sur­vived or whether they would be able to mi­grate north in the spring. In Our Lady of Mari­posas ,by Santa Fe play­wright Alix Hud­son, open­ing Thurs­day, Sept. 3, at Teatro Paraguas Stu­dio, as the world waits to see what has be­come of the monar­chs, eight-yearold Anza hopes that her mother, who has left the fam­ily, will re­turn. Anza’s fa­ther, Manuel, comes to rely on a neigh­bor, Kate, to help him and Anza through the dif­fi­cult time. Set in south­east­ern New Mexico, Our Lady of Mari­posas is writ­ten in Span­ish and English and struc­tured as a mem­ory play, so we see Anza as a lit­tle girl and as a young woman us­ing her full name, Esper­anza, which in Span­ish means both hope and wait­ing with ex­pec­ta­tion. Esper­anza pro­vides con­text and ex­po­si­tion at key mo­ments in the play as a way to frame the fo­cus of the story. “The struc­ture takes away some of the im­me­di­acy, but it gives it a more pro­found as­pect, es­pe­cially in the metaphor about the but­ter­flies. Rather than be­ing in the hel­ter-skel­ter of the mo­ment, the au­di­ence is able to ab­sorb more of the mean­ing of the play,” ex­plained di­rec­tor Ar­gos Mac­Cal­lum, co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Teatro Paraguas.

“It’s ob­vi­ously a pretty lit­eral stroke to have her named Esper­anza, but it works in the con­text of her sym­bolic iden­tity,” Hud­son said. “I love that hop­ing and wait­ing are the same word in Span­ish, although that doesn’t mean the char­ac­ters don’t un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence. I just love the lit­tle nu­ances in lan­guage, and the way lan­guage re­flects the way we learn about the world. We all grap­ple with the dif­fer­ence be­tween wait­ing and hop­ing: at what point do you need to let go — or at what point do you de­cide that you’re not go­ing to let go?”

Anza (played by Maya Sanchez), Manuel (Jason Jaramillo), and Kate (Liza Frolkis) live in apart­ments in what Mac­Cal­lum and set de­signer Mims Mat­tair en­vi­sion as a month-to-month mo­tel, sim­i­lar to what has be­come of the old Thun­der­bird Inn on Cer­ril­los Road. “These peo­ple are work­ing-class, liv­ing close to the edge, in pretty ba­sic sur­vival mode,” Mac­Cal­lum said. Although we know that Manuel and his friends work in a ware­house do­ing man­ual la­bor, “We don’t know much about Kate or where she works, but we know she has a soli­tary life, and we know that Manuel and his wife, Estrella, mar­ried quite young. Estrella isn’t in the play — she’s just the silent end of a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion — which is in­trigu­ing to me.”

A tremen­dous amount of the play’s dra­matic heft re­lies on the act­ing tal­ents of Sanchez, who is nine years old and orig­i­nally from Mexico. She en­rolled in some chil­dren’s theater classes at Teatro Paraguas last spring, and Mac­Cal­lum was struck by her com­mand­ing stage pres­ence. “She’s al­ready learn­ing the emo­tional through­line in the text pretty much on her own.”

Hud­son, the daugh­ter of two English pro­fes­sors, grew up in Craw­fordsville, In­di­ana, and stud­ied theater and Span­ish at Colorado Col­lege. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing five years ago, she forewent in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties in the theater world in fa­vor of teach­ing high school English on Zuni Pue­blo, south of Gallup. She now lives in Santa Fe and teaches Span­ish-lan­guage learn­ers at the Nye Early Child­hood Cen­ter, which pro­vides preschool ser­vices for three-to-five-yearolds with dis­abil­i­ties. She has per­formed with Teatro Paraguas’ Cuen­tos se­ries of bilin­gual folk­tales and is or has been in­volved with sev­eral other the­aters and groups as a play­wright, di­rec­tor, and ac­tor, in­clud­ing the Santa Fe Play­house, Al­bu­querque’s Fu­sion, and the Los Alamos Lit­tle Theatre. She sub­mit­ted Our

Lady of Mari­posas to Teatro Paraguas’ open call for New Mexico play­wrights, and now the one-hour play launches the theater’s twelfth sea­son. (The play also opens on Sept. 17 as part of the Na­tional His­panic Cul­tural Cen­ter’s Siem­bra Latino Theater Fes­ti­val in Al­bu­querque.)

The idea for the play first came to Hud­son four years ago, as a re­cur­ring im­age that ap­peared to her of a lit­tle girl ask­ing her fa­ther ev­ery night when her mother was com­ing home. At some point she read an ar­ti­cle about the 2002 monarch die-off and re­mem­ber d be­ing in eighth or ninth grade when it hap , and hear­ing her fa­ther talk about how the fate of the but­ter­flies was up in the air. “I re­al­ized how easily those ideas could be linked — peo­ple hon­estly not know­ing, that am­bi­gu­ity.” Soon af­ter that, she had a visit from her twin five-year-old cousins. “I was en­chanted by the way they talked. Anza is a bit older than that, but kids will say these re­ally beau­ti­ful, in­sight­ful things with­out re­al­iz­ing it — or some­times they do re­al­ize it. They’re bril­liant lit­tle peo­ple.”

“Alix is from In­di­ana and learned Span­ish in col­lege and in Spain, but some­how she’s caught on quickly to lo­cal id­iom,” Mac­Cal­lum said. “She has a real ear.” The por­tions of the play in which Manuel in­ter­acts with his friends from work, Dave (Daric Gu­tier­rez) and Eu­lo­gio (Tomás Rivera), flow and ring true to Mac­Cal­lum, who has lived in Santa Fe his en­tire life and co-founded Teatro Paraguas as a way to celebrate the rich­ness of New Mexico cul­ture and literature, most of­ten through the pre­sen­ta­tion of bilin­gual works for the theater.

Hud­son is con­scious of be­ing an An­glo writ­ing His­panic char­ac­ters and try­ing to cap­ture their ex­pe­ri­ence with con­ceits in­volv­ing re­li­gious sym­bol­ism, eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter, and the frag­ile strength of fam­ily. “The ar­gu­ment could be made that it’s not my place to be writ­ing these char­ac­ters, so I re­ally in­vite di­a­logue.” She be­lieves it’s bet­ter to try to write out­side of her di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence, even if she gets some of it wrong, be­cause it opens up the con­ver­sa­tion about cul­tural di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the arts. “It’s all about in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity,” she said, re­fer­ring to the con­cept of over­lap­ping so­cial cat­e­go­riza­tions, in­clud­ing race and gen­der, which cre­ate op­pres­sion and disad­van­tage. “For in­stance, I want peo­ple to write queer char­ac­ters even if they’re not queer. We have to try to get at the core of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, and if we get it wrong we can tell each other. That’s what writ­ing is about.”

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