By Pat Launer
Neither magic nor ghosts, prayer nor healing power can eradicate the ravages of war.
In the fictional Latin American town of San Ysidro, the battles aren’t with “the neighbors to the north.” This is a civil war (though there’s nothing civil about it). And the damage devastates every small village, every loving couple.
In Martín Zimmerman’s “Seven Spots on the Sun,” we meet two such couples, the youthful, exuberant newlyweds, Monica (Jennifer Paredes) and Luis (Bernardo Mazón), who have grand plans for their future; and the more mature, but still amorous, Moises (Jorge Rodriguez) and Belén (Sandra Ruiz), who reminisce about their first, scrumptious, sensual sharing of a piña (pineapple).
Then Luis goes off to fight, and he’s forever changed by the experience. The ramifications — and the horrors — of his actions reverberate through the pairs and their respective villages.
The play’s text is sparse, the scenes episodic; we switch among households and time periods. There’s the sense of parable, with a kind of Greek chorus on hand — townspeople who facilitate the action, punctuating it with an eerie soundscape of animal and ambient noises. The ritualized movements are carefully choreographed (by Patrick Mayuyu and Robert Malave). There are bongo drums and a tambourine – and the otherworldly whine of singing bowls.
InnerMission Productions co-founding artistic director Carla Nell treats the dark, evocative play as a dance, an elegiac piece of music, a poetic exploration of the physical and emotional carnage of war. And how somehow, it always manages to affect the children most.
In among the other elements of magical realism, there’s a symbolic disease — a deadly plague that only affects the very young — including Luis and Monica’s infant daughter.
Moises is a doctor, who gave up his practice and became reclusive after his wife was brutally murdered. But, drawn out by the cowardly priest who wouldn’t help him in his hour of need, Moises finds himself to be a healer; he merely needs to touch the afflicted children and their boils and fevers disappear. His miracles cause pilgrims to line up at his door, and spots to appear on the sun.
According to Moises, in the first two years of life, a baby’s face is a reflection of its father. And in the face of Luisa’s infant, he sees the image of the monster who destroyed his wife and thereby, his life.
Through it all, the priest and sometime narrator, Eugenio (Miguel Gongora, Jr.), stands impotently by, unable to act to the end. His dithering has proved dangerous. Religion, Zimmerman seems to intimate, provides little help in the face of catastrophe.
This is another of InnerMission’s deep, burrowing explorations of the heart of darkness. Their play selections reflect their social conscience; they force us to examine things we’d probably rather not see but that might expand our ways of thinking.
The cast seems to be profoundly connected to the material. The four outstanding central performances (the two couples) carve out emotionally complex characters and credible relationships. The rest of the ensemble provides fine support.
The suggestive set, a mix of paper and plastic, wood and corrugation, is all black and gray and sepia. The play itself is a wash of dusky colors, with occasional slashes of fiery emotion.
No questions are answered, no problems resolved. There’s no happy ending. War is like that. It annihilates, and leaves wreckage in its wake. There may be amnesty for those who commit unspeakable acts. There may be forgiveness; or not. The fires die down. And then the whole sickening cycle begins again.
- InnerMission Productions’ “Seven Spots on The Sun” runs through Dec. 10 in Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights
- Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
- Tickets ($20-$25) are available at 619-324-8970 or online at InnerMissionProductions.org
- Running time: 85 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.