In Aminta de Lara's Golondrina (Swallow), an old Venezuelan man slouches inert in a huge armchair, his face a mystery to the audience. In this death chamber, the man's two daughters, long estranged from each other, face off. In the plaza below the apartment, another confrontation is taking place, as protesters against the policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clash with a small counterdemonstration. Produced by SinTeatro and running at La MaMa's First Floor Theater, the play is co-directed by De Lara and Diana Chery. Its greatest strength is De Lara's clear delineation of the parallels between domestic and political conflict. Unfortunately, its greatest weakness is that this perceptive act of comparison and contrast is executed in such a didactic, unsubtle manner, it does not necessarily translate as drama.
In writing Golondrina, De Lara appears to have prioritized clarity of message over character development and the pleasures of discovery. The sisters are one-dimensional mouthpieces for their social and political positions. Carmen Elena, played by Chery, is a Chavez supporter and has spent a good part of her life placating men who abuse her. "What we need here," she says, defending Chavez, "is a strong hand. Someone with balls." "Just like father," observes her older sister Claudia, a fiercely independent doctor and cafe society dissident played by De Lara.
The script explains its symbolism so blatantly it could be its own Cliffs Notes. Of the godlike paterfamilias, Carmen Elena declares, "I always thought of him as immortal, superhuman, omnipresent." Long after the suggested back story has made the fact obvious, she claims, "You could never say no to him." Demystifying their relationship, Claudia accuses, "We're both full of resentment: you just choose to blame yours on Mother."
Elsewhere, the script again states the obvious: "I don't know what to do. I am feeling stressed." The big revelations are foreshadowed too heavily and melodramatically, and so are entirely predictable. The absence of ambiguity creates an absence of suspense.
Even the political commentary remains too nonspecific to arouse interest. "Nowadays, thinking against the government is a crime," Claudia protests. What government policies in particular do the dissidents oppose? Why have these issues come up? Why does their surfacing frighten the regime? Some lines are simply melodramatic, embarrassingly reminiscent of soap opera: "Why did you start saying things? Things that are better left unsaid" and the frantically delivered "You don't understand! You just don't understand!"
As for the acting, De Lara and Chery embody the characters well, though they never transcend the limited emotional range allowed by the script. Carmen Elena spends a large amount of time shouting at her sister. It is as if De Lara and Chery had forgotten that plays are like music: to make the high notes stand out, you need some lower ones, at least occasionally. About halfway through, this emotionally charged attitude became monotonous.
The action is periodically interrupted for some interesting photos of Venezuelan life, by Carlos Ayesta, shown on hanging screens in short computerized slide shows accompanied by forgettable music, while the actresses either move in trancelike gait or display their internal emotional battles with poses that seem borrowed from silent films. One visual effect, the electronic supertitling of a Venezuelan patriotic song, was hampered by at least two typos in the scrolling lyrics.
The set consists of only the father's chair. It is odd that such a determinedly domestic play—a play about a house in a particular state, which also represents that state—should not have a set that reveals more particulars of the father's home.
Lastly, De Lara's research needs work. Claudia, the doctor, does something to her father's body that would set off alarm bells in the mind of any halfway competent pathologist—after she warns her sister that their father's body will most certainly be examined by law enforcement personnel. If this is consciously self-destructive, then the playwright needs to indicate that in the script.
Something else that the playwright needs to indicate is whether the "English translation" by Francine Jacome, noted in the program (but not on the front cover or on the press release), means that the play we are seeing is Golondrina (Swallow) by Aminta de Lara, translated by Francine Jacome. As a writer, De Lara should know to give her fellow writer, the translator, proper credit.
De Lara, SinTeatro, and La MaMa are to be commended for courageously tackling some difficult and vital subject matters, and bravely without any "I'm not a feminist but..." apology. In Golondrina, there is a play that needs to be seen. At La MaMa, right now, that bird is taking flight, but has not yet found its wings. When it does, I look forward to seeing it soar.