The San Diego Repertory Theatre thrived during the first half of its 38th season last year, staging In the Heights, A Weekend With Pablo Picasso and Venus in Fur, all three outstanding. The Rep launches its second half with the English language world premiere of Caridad Svich’s In the Time of the Butterflies, a play based on the 1994 novel by Julia Alvarez. While faithful to the theater’s season of adventurous material, Butterflies is missing the seamlessness of its predecessors in telling the story of Las Miraposas (the Butterflies), the four daughters of a farmer in the Dominican Republic who defied the brutal Trujillo regime in the mid-20th century.
Associate San Diego Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Todd Salovey and artist-in-residence Herbert Siguenza co-direct a dignified but slowly unfolding production that recounts the tale of the Mirabal sisters simultaneously in real time and in retrospect through the recollection of surviving sister Dede (the other three sisters were assassinated by soldiers of Trujillo). The show might have been better served by bookending the beginning and the end with the older Dede’s storytelling to an American journalist. Catalina Maynard’s tense on-stage witnessing of the sisters’ (her younger self included) transformation into revolutionaries is awkward.
As Mirabal sisters Minerva, Patria, Maria Teresa and young Dede, Jacqueline Grace Lopez, Elisa Gonzales, Maritxell Carrero and Sandra Ruiz portray Las Miraposas with genuine conviction, and Lopez and Carrero in particular are touching as sisters bound as much by love as by righteousness.
The intermittent presence of a jaunty DJ (Siguenza, who plays multiple roles including that of Trujillo in full military regalia) seems out of place, while screen projections behind the action (something the Rep does so well) are too few here. More of them might have further dramatized the historical scope of Trujillo’s terror and the courage of those who dared to oppose him.
A definite sublime touch is the accompanying violin from the rafters, played by Batya MacAdam-Somer, that beautifully accompanies Michael Roth’s soundscape.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.