By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
The four Mirabal sisters wrestle with life in the midst of the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship in a fictionalized account of true events in Caridad Svich’s adaptation of Julia Alvarez’s book, “In the Time of the Butterflies.”
An American writer (Lydia Gibson) goes to the Dominican Republic to learn more about the tragedy of the Mirabel girls from the only surviving sister, Dede (an older incarnation is played by Susana Garcia-Barragan). There she is told the tragic tale of the four sisters, Patria (Krystal Rivera), Maria Teresa (Frances Tirado), Dede (Vanessa Vivas) and Minerva (Evelyn Hernández) who spend many sun-drenched afternoons in their family garden – until, on one fateful night, they encounter the tyrannical Trujillo (Enrique Bazán).
Minerva stands up to the martinet while he tries to cop a feel while dancing with her at a party.
Side note: History records the story that she slapped him while he made his play for her. Minerva’s daughter tells the tale differently. She insulted him, humiliated him. Whether the slap was physical or psychic, it changed her destiny forever.
Minerva accidentally leaves her purse at the party. While most of the contents of said handbag were innocuous, it also contained a love letter from Lio (Victor Aponte), the head of the opposition.
From there, the women try to maintain joyous, colorful lives while secretly fighting to free their country from El Jefe (the dictator’s nickname).
The American writer desperately tries to capture the weight and emotion of their powerful story. She feels it must be told. She’s right.
Spoiler alert: She does manage to write the book, “In the Time of Butterflies.” A fictionalized account that details the lives of these four strong, amazing women.
The cast of “In the Time of Butterflies” is marvelous. Director Ricardo Vila-Roger manages to get great performances out of each of them.
Additional side note: The entire cast identifies as Latin American origin or descent (Latinx), including the director (all are also Pittsburgh-based). In 2019, that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s a big deal. It’s a shame it took so long.
Hernández is a powerful and beautiful leading young lady. She is captivating as Minerva.
Rivera’s Patria was the most different from her sisters. She was prim, proper and spiritual, but Patria undergoes the strongest arc, from religious to rebellious. Rivera handled it expertly.
Tirado is effervescent. She’s brimming with energy and enthusiasm. She’s a joy to watch. Of course, it makes her eventual demise even more difficult to watch.
Garcia-Barragan and Vivas each make a distinct mark on the character of Dede. It’s easy to imagine they are playing the same person at different ages.
While Bazán doesn’t have much stage time, he makes his presence felt. He comes in strong, forceful, commanding. He is superb.
Aponte fills in all the other male roles and he manages to make each of them distinct. He’s a boisterous DJ, a robust rebel and a gentle and simple man who grants the women a favor – the ultimate example of the aphorism “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Svich’s script is brisk, but it felt like some big chunks were left out. Minerva married and had two children. Her husband is an important plot point but he’s sort of drops out of nowhere late in the second act. On opening night, Minerva’s real-life daughter even joked, “She had children. I know this because I am here.”
If you want a more detailed account, you would have to read Alvarez’s book. This Reader’s Digest version still packs an emotional wallop. You don’t need all the details to get wrapped up in their story.
Vila-Roger doesn’t pull his punches. The final scenes are gut-wrenching without being morbid. He handles the shocking subject matter deftly.
Most of the action takes place in front of the Mirabal family home, a stunning backdrop by Britton Mauk with prismatic projections provided by Joe Spinogatti. The women are beautifully adorned in technicolor dresses by Kim Brown at Spotlight Costumes.
The adaptation of “In the Time of The Butterflies” has a few flaws, but it’s an important piece of theater.
Set your clocks for “In the Time of the Butterflies” at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.