For almost 30 years, Glendale-based Antaeus Theatre Company has presented ambitious classical theater. From William Shakespeare to William Saroyan, Anton Chekhov to Lillian Hellman, Antaeus is revered for its take on older works.
So how does a classicist shake things up? Create brand new works through a Playwright’s Lab and present them in an exquisite new theater. The Abuelas is the company’s first full production of a work developed in its Lab. And they went all out: a compelling story is supported with a knockout set, inspired sound and lighting, and strong direction.
The plot references Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the abduction of those opposed to the 1976 junta that seized control of the government. Thousands were abducted, including many pregnant young women whose babies were delivered and turned over to couples with ties to the new regime. The new mothers were tortured and killed. Ultimately 30,000 Argentine citizens were murdered by death squads.
The abductees became known as the desaparecidos, the disappeared. The babies – as many as 500 – became the subject of a search that continues to this day, initiated by their abuelas. After losing their children, the women were determined to return their grandchildren to their rightful families.
When The Abuelas opens in a modern-day Chicago high-rise, there is indeed an abuela visiting from Argentina to help out with her daughter’s new baby. Soledad, played as a force of nature by Denise Blasor, is the mother (and mother-in-law) who’s always there with a comment custom-made to hurt the feelings of its target.
Playwright Stephanie Alison Walker lived in Argentina as a child during the Dictatorship. She’s written a powerful look at the long-term impact of state-sponsored terrorism. It builds slowly as we get to know cellist Gabriela (Argentinean Luisina Quarieri) and her husband Marty (Seamus Dever). It comes alive when charismatic Cesar (David DeSantos) brings a Gabriela “superfan,” Carolina (Argentinean Irene De Bari), to dinner.
The couple’s marital issues are a distraction that takes the audience back from the edge of their seats. The Abuelas shines when its focus is on the complex relationships between the women. This is a story of trying to undo past wrongs, of the permanence of family and maybe, just maybe, of forgiveness.
The Abuelas runs through Nov. 25, with some blackout days; check www.antaeus.org for details and tickets, or call 818-506-1983. All seats are $35. On October 13 and 17, performances are followed by talkbacks with the playwright and Héctor Rombola of Red Argentina por el Derecho a la Identidad (Argentinian Network for the Right to Identity). The theater is located in the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway in Glendale. Reasonably priced parking is available at a lot around the corner at 120 S. Artsakh Ave.