Melinda Lopez's story of a stressed girl who was sent out of Cuba in 1960 and grew to be a stressed woman in Minnesota in 2001
Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, Rose Firebay
May 24, May 25, May 29, May 31, 2014
Award winning playwright Melinda Lopez’s Sonia Flew is at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center’s Rose Firebay in a Jewish Theatre of Bloomington production directed by Martha Jacobs. It tells the story of Sonia. As a teen ager she was sent to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan to escape the chaos and forced labor of the communist revolution in Cuba in the early 1960s.
The first act is set in Minnesota in 2001. Sonia, Jolene Moffatt, is now the mother of a teen aged daughter, Leslie Spitznagel, and a son, Mauricio Miranda. The son is enlisting in the army and this sets off a whole complex of anger that Sonia still has at being sent away from her family. Although he’s a psychiatrist her husband, Bill Simmons, is powerless to help with her deep fear at the son’s decision to leave that’s so inextricably bound with her own unresolved history.
A further wedge in the family is inserted by the arrival of Bill’s father Sam, Stephen Hunt. The father is an observant Jew who fought in World War II. He supports Sonia’s son’s desire to join the military. In all the resulting tension, Sonia can’t bring herself to, as she puts it “pretend for Sam,” and light the Shabbat candles. As the family Christmas tree lights twinkle, it’s left to her daughter to say the prayers and light the candles.
The first act ends with a scene of the son and his gabby partner on patrol in Afghanistan as they come under attack.
The second act of Sonia Flew is set in Havana in 1961. All of the actors reappear with new roles. Leslie Spitznagel appears as the young Sonia gaily preparing to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. Darrell Anne Stone plays her ever concerned mother. Stephen Hunt is her professorial father. Jolene Moffatt is the humorously energetic busybody of a neighbor whose husband has been detained by the new regime. Bill Simmons is the snaky local communist party leader and Mauricio Miranda is a brash young Castro pioneer with his eye on Sonia. As scene follows scene, more and more evidence mounts up about the dangers of trying to lead a quiet life in the new regime. In a very emotional set of scenes Sonia’s parents obtain a phony student visa and send the protesting and tearful girl off to the United States.
The play ends with a jaw dropping scene in Arlington National Cemetery.
Frankly, I found Sonia Flew perplexing. The play is very powerful in its dramatization of and display of emotions, I was never for a second uninvolved. As it is written and played by Jolene Moffatt, the adult Sonia in scenes triggered by her son’s enlistment– but way out of proportion– is an emotional mess of a mother. The playwright says that she “knew Sonia had to be strong and accomplished,” but we only hear that she has an involving professional career in some feeble attempts at sympathy from her largely detached husband near the end of the first act. In the second act as the fearful parents seek to convince the teen aged Sonia to leave Cuba, there’s plenty of energy and emotion, but not much in the way of argument. I gather that when it finally came down to it, she was a dutiful daughter but this is more of an excuse than an explanation. My head was often left wondering, but heart was moved and I think that’s probably the most important thing one can say about a piece of theatre.
The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington’s production of Melinda Lopez’s Sonia Flew directed by Martha Jacobs has final performances Thursday May 29 and Saturday May 31 at 7:30 in the Rose Firebay of the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.