“There is a universal tone to the script that is particularly relevant during this presidential administration.”
Atacama Desert is the driest desert on earth. Taking up more than 41,000 square miles west of the Andes mountains, its stony and sandy terrain dotted with salt lakes and felsic lava flows has been compared to that of Mars. In 2010, the skeletons of 75 prehistoric whales — believed to be about two million years old — were unearthed in a corner of the desert. The Atacama is a popular tourist destination for its spectacular night skies, and home to the La Silla and Paranal observatories, one of which is visible in the distance to Ignacia and Diego. They are two characters in
a play by Augusto Federico Amador that has its world premiere at Teatro Paraguas on Friday, Sept. 7.
In addition to fossilized whale bones, seashells, and other ancient matter, pieces of human skeletons were buried under the thin sand in the mid-1970s, after Gen. Augusto Pinochet tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Chileans for the crime of being communists. Mothers and other relatives of the disappeared, called the Women of Calama, search for bones by methodically digging into the desert floor. Their search has been going on for over 40 years. Numerous remains have been identified by lab tests, but the bones — a toe joint here, a finger there — have been bleached and scattered by the elements. At this point, it would be nearly impossible to find and reassemble a whole skeleton.
The Teatro Paraguas production of directed by Juliet Salazar, stars Bernadette Peña as Ignacia and James Chavez as Diego. Ignacia’s son is among the missing, and she has been digging for his bones for years. Diego lost his daughter, but it is his first time in the desert. His wife, who has died, spent decades digging alongside the other Women of Calama, and he is trying to fulfill a promise he made to her. Ignacia and Diego live inside their grief, alternately unable and unwilling to look at certain truths from their pasts.
“For Ignacia, the bones are her treasure. She would probably dig forever to get her son back home,” Peña said. “She believes she’s Diego’s guide, but she needs his help as much as he needs hers.”
“She’s the one with all the experience, and Diego comes in as a rookie with no interest in being there,” Chavez said, adding, “The third character is the location. The sand, the desert. You have to realize where it’s taking place in order to get a deep sense of the tragedy and the despair that took place there.” I