This weekend, an original play titled “A La Ronda” will show in the ’92 Theater and provide textbook-weary Wesleyan students a brief escape from university life. The play, directed by Claire Whitehouse ’14 as her senior thesis, is adapted from the book “Circle of Love Over Death” by Matilde Mellibovsky. Written in 1997, the book includes chapters of testimonies of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an association of women whose children were “disappeared” by the Argentinian government during insurrection.
The testimonies come from the group of Madres who strove to keep the remains of their children intact. The Madres were not viewed as a threat to the government, even as they congregated, because the power they had as housewives was so small.
“They started out as apolitical, and that was a selling point,” Whitehouse said.
In this way, their lack of political voice lent them liberties denied to other members of society during this time of unrest.
“I was attracted to the testimonies because they really preserve the voices of the mothers, which was important in terms of turning it into theatrical dialogue,” Whitehouse said. “It was very personal and not academic. There is a lot of variety between the testimonies.”
The show strongly conveys a theme of mutual isolation. Whitehouse explained that once someone was disappeared, that person’s existence was no longer acknowledged. The remaining isolation that the Madres, and everyone left in the wake of the unconcluded tragedy, experienced is visually apparent in the play.
The stage is split into five sections, each one designated for an isolated cast member. The Madres do not even make eye contact with one another until over halfway through the show.
“The first time we were allowed to make eye contact with each other and the first time we started to move into each others’ spaces, it felt like we had been in a totally different world even though we had only been a few feet away,” said actress Connie Des Marais ’17.
The space became real for the actors, creating climactic relief at the moment of their congregation. In juxtaposition, the audience can sense the unifying pain among the women even in their isolation. This blocking style beautifully conveys the Madres’ emotional turmoil without claiming authority of understanding the emotions themselves.
During the spring of her junior year, Whitehouse studied abroad in Argentina. She submitted her thesis proposal before going, but entirely rediscovered her inspiration during her time there. She experienced a time when she no longer felt ownership over the story.
“Not only is it not my story, it is the story of people who I actually know,” Whitehouse said. “It was important to get some distance from the story.”
She cites this feeling as her inspiration for the abstract nature of the play. The book that the students hold in their hands (“Circle of Love Over Death”) is meant to be the gateway to catapult the actors into the story, illustrating that the performance displayed is the story gleaned from reading the testimonies.
The actors worked for the half credit they received for their participation in the thesis show. They not only contributed countless hours gradually familiarizing themselves with their characters, but they also learned how to sing in Spanish, speed-draw life-size portraits, and master a handful of other unique talents that can be seen in the show.
But the five actresses (Des Marais, Helen Handelman ’16, Grace Herman-Holland ’15, Aileen Lambert ’17, and Dominique Moore ’14) were not the only ones who learned throughout this process. Whitehouse spoke reflectively about the experience of putting the show together.
“It really felt like such a gift to me to be able to do it,” Whitehouse said. “Because it was such a gift, the question becomes, how can I do something that is a huge challenge to myself and that I am going to learn a lot from? What do I need to learn before I leave here?”
The subject matter is heavy, and the way that it is displayed on stage conveys the emotions of the story just as much as it conveys the literal testimonies themselves. “A La Ronda” is an intellectually interactive experience that challenges the audience to be pulled out of campus for a moment into the troubled hearts of a community of incredibly strong women.
“A La Ronda” will perform this Friday and Saturday in the ’92 Theater at 8 p.m. Tickets are available in the Usdan Box Office.