Golondrinas (Swallows) – When Will These Swallows Be Free To Fly?


Golondrinas (Swallows) –
When Will These Swallows Be Free To Fly?

Golondrinas (Swallows), written and directed by Aminta De Lara and running at La Mama through April 26, is not a long play. Yet it packs in such a whopping amount of potent and provocative ideas that there is a danger of walking out of the theater in a daze and stumbling into some innocent passer-by because your head is still back in the theater trying to sort everything out. (Note to theater-goers seeking light entertainment—this is not the play for you.)

So. Where to begin? First, there are the potent and provocative ideas. These include: an entire global system in need of renovation; the feminine nature of anti-totalitarianism; incestual sexual abuse; a dictatorial, repressive patriarchal government as fatherland; female fatherland as alternative; paternal abuse as a metaphor for a repressive dictatorship; the moral dilemma of killing; the existential nature of this decision. This play was born from the very troubling political situation in Venezuela over the past two decades. De Lara writes passionately both as an expatriate and a woman.

Swallows2Second, there is the play itself. De Lara is able to pack all these ideas into the roughly 80 minute running time because the play is essentially a dialogue between two abused sisters who arrive at their father’s apartment and discover him half-dead. Outside the apartment, protests are raging, conveyed through rear-projected images on transparent screens, which also serve as the walls of apartment. The ambulance can’t get through because of the protests. The sisters are stuck in the apartment with each other, talking, often fighting, about what to do with their half-dead father. Not much happens, but there is a lot of discourse.

The sisters are at odds with each other, both in terms of what to do with the body and in their own political views. Carmen Elena (Howard Collado) accuses Claudia (Robby Ramos) of not having a social conscience and of never being interested in politics. Claudia fights back, “Nobody in their right mind can possibly think that you can fix a country by letting the energy flow while, at the same time, voting and backing a lunatic with a plan like that.” Carmen Elena retorts, “I’ll say it again: What’s wrong is that you have no social conscience.” And so it goes for the entire play, in some variation or another. They could be talking about politics. They could be talking about their father.

Third, there are the casting choices. These were absolutely fascinating and what, in large measure, made the play so provocative. De Lara chose to have male actors play the sisters because she wanted “a way to demonstrate that gender is irrelevant, that the dichotomy of repression exists in each of us.” This worked in the sense that it heightened the awareness of gender as a factor in the conversation. At the same time, it wasn’t clear that it made gender irrelevant. In some ways, it seemed to give it even more relevance. It was difficult not to continually imagine how different the play would have been with female actors. On top of that, there was the simple irony of casting men for women in a play designed to highlight the feminine.

The half-dead father was not a physical presence, instead just a chair with its back to the audience. This imagined presence would seem to make him less potent, but it worked the other way around, making him even more potent since everything the sisters did or said revolved around his invisible presence. That he was an abusive male patriarchal figure made it all the more effective, especially if De Lara wants her audience to think about “balancing out our feminine.” It all starts here, she seems to be saying—in an apartment in Caracas with a father who still manages to control all those around him even though he says nothing, is invisible, and is half-dead to boot.

Swallows3Finally, there was “The Feminine Force,” a character played by Marion Elaine who floated through various scenes as a mostly silent, physical presence. This role seemed less successful at first, but upon reflection was an interesting addition. If her role was to speak to and balance out the feminine, then it worked. However, it seemed an odd choice to make her silent, and occasionally the question of her ultimate purpose still lingered. This seemed to be a directorial misstep as she moved in and out of the set fluidly.

All the action (or non-action) takes place in the apartment, with the invisible father at the back of the set, and the two sisters mostly at the front talking, arguing, and fighting with each other. This dense construction made the play feel much longer than it actually was. The acting, at times, felt strained, but we were watching two males play overwrought sisters who had been abused by their father. The roles were very challenging, and the two actors did more than well enough with them.

Swallows4The press materials suggest that the play has roots in Camus’ classic drama, The Just Assassins, but Sartre’s No Exit felt more appropriate. The depicted apartment on stage is small. The two sisters arrive there and are stuck with each other. As they talk, argue, and shout at each other, the audience cannot help but feel stuck in the same small room with them and their father. Meanwhile, outside we hear, and see from the photos on the transparent screens, the crowd protesting. The sisters want to escape. We want to escape. But we can’t. We are all in this small room together. At least until the final denouement when the lights come on and we realize we are free to go.

And so the audience is able to leave, but as one exits the theater in a daze, one wonders about the fate of the sisters and whether they, even after they have made their fateful decision, are able to escape that room. Outside that room the protests have stopped. Maybe the totalitarian regime is ousted from power. Or maybe not. But one can only hope that the country is able to escape its brutal past (its own version of that room), and open its doors to all of its countrymen and women—all the while remembering the feminine.

Photos by Jonathan Slaff:
1. L-R: Howard Collado and Robert Ramos
2. L-R: Howard Collado and Robert Ramos
Photos by Rosalie Baijer:
3. Marion Elaine
4.L-R: Robert Ramos and Howard Collado

Golondrinas (Swallows)
La MaMa’s First Floor Theater
74 East Fourth Street
Between 2nd Avenue and Bowery, East Village
Limited Engagement through April 26, 2015
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
$18 general admission, $13 seniors and students
Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance
on a first-come, first-served basis.