In the time of the butterflies
Our Lady of Mariposas
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.”