May 17, 2017

"Seven Spots on the Sun" Sheds Light on the Darkness a Repressive Regime Can Inflict

Getting a show in front of a mainstream audience ain't easy and it can be even tougher when you're a playwright of color. Which is why I'm happy to have seen Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun, which is running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through June 4—and to be able to celebrate The Sol Project, which helped get it there.

The Sol Project, which officially launched just a year ago, is a collective that arranges for an off-Broadway company and a regional theater to give a full production to a play by a Latinx author, guaranteeing that playwright the much-desired chance to see his or her work done in New York and to get at least one more professional production elsewhere in the country (click here to read more about the initiative).

Like many young playwrights, Zimmerman has had plenty of readings and workshop productions at theaters ranging from the La Jolla Playhouse in California to The Roundabout Theatre's Underground space here in New York, which recently featured Marin Ireland in his On the Exhale, a searing monolog in which a mother grieves for a child killed in a school massacre and which made it clear that Zimmerman's work deserves to be seen by a wider audience (click here to read my review of it).

Seven Spots on the Sun is one of Zimmerman's earlier plays and its callowness shows in its occasional slips into melodrama, an overambitious use of flashbacks and an almost obligatory inclusion of the magical realism often associated with Latin American literature.

And yet, it is still an effective piece of work. That's in part because the language, some of it spoken in Spanish, is so beautifully lyrical. But it's mainly because Zimmerman, whose mother is Argentinian, forces the audience to confront the differing ways that people respond to oppression under a totalitarian regime. And, aware that heroes tend to be rare in situations like these, he refuses to castigate the choices taken.

My friend June, a journalist who has spent most of her career covering Latin America, quietly wept at moments. And she wasn't the only one I saw wiping away tears at the performance we attended. Even the spouse of a critic who would later give the play a lukewarm review appeared moved.

In the play, Luis, a low-paid miner eager to make a better life for his beloved wife Mónica, enlists in the military and is soon assigned to crack down mercilessly on anyone who challenges the government. A local doctor Moisés tries to stay neutral but is pulled into the conflict when his wife Belén insists that it's their moral duty to treat a wounded rebel left to die in the village plaza as a warning to other residents.

Meanwhile, the town priest tries to drown his timorousness in alcohol and a three-member chorus of townspeople comment on all these tragic comings and goings. The storylines come together when Luis' unit arrests Belén and, after the civil war has ended, Luis and Mónica's child is afflicted by a mysterious plague that only Moisés has a mystical power to cure.

The all-Latinx cast, as eager as Project Sol's playwrights are to show what they can do, gives strong performances, particularly Sean Carvajal as Luis and Flor De Liz Perez as Mónica. Director Weyni Mengesha has a tougher time wrangling the fractured narrative but ultimately gets the job done.

Some critics have complained that because Zimmerman sets the action in an unnamed country, the play lacks specificity. But, of course, that's precisely the point Zimmerman is making. These situations, and their hard choices and harsh consequences, have happened in many countries, both inside and outside Latin America. Seven Spots on the Sun is a reminder that they could even happen here.

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