Dedè, the most cautious of the four sister protagonists in Teatro Vista’s The Time of the Butterflies, is haunted by the accusation that she watched through her window and did nothing while her three sisters risked everything to end the dictatorship of “El Jefe” Trujillo.
Playwright Caridad Suich explores the complexity of Dedè’s character through two actors—Charìn Alvarez playing Dedè as an elderly woman and Riska Carrasco playing the younger Dedè that survived Trujillo’s 31-year reign. She was left alone to tell the story of her three sisters’ murders (which were among 30,000 deaths of those that opposed Trujillo).
The omnipresent suspense at the heart of Suich’s script builds from the reality that every word overheard, every letter intercepted, every action witnessed could lead to imprisonment, torture, and death… and the imprisonments, tortures, and deaths were not restricted to those suspected of wrong-doing. The girls’ Papa is held in prison for weeks because his daughter Minerva (Flavia Pallozzi) publically refused Trujillo’s advances. Decades later, the three sisters’ husbands are held in jail for revolutionary activities.
Within the play’s 90-minute run time, each sister is developed in turn starting with Minerva, the third born but first to join the anti-Trujillo movement. Minerva is independent and forward-thinking—devoted to her desire to become a lawyer that fights for rights of the common people. Minerva is the best informed about Trujillo’s atrocities but also the most naïve regarding her own safety. She states often that she would accept prison rather than continuing to live willingly under Trujillo’s totalitarianism, but this conviction is easier said than done when she is arrested and subjected to weeks in a Dominican “torture chamber.”
Marìa Teresa (Alyssette Muñòz) is the youngest born by almost 10 years but the second to join the movement. Her transformation from the baby sister catching butterflies in the garden to pre-teen girl wishing to wear a beautiful white dress to Trujillo’s party (her sisters do not allow her to attend) to devoted revolutionary enthralled by Fidel Castro provides the greatest character growth of the four sisters.
From the first scene, Patria (Sari Sànchez) is defined by her devotion to her religion, to her parents, and to her avoidance of trouble. Patria seems the least likely to join the revolution, but after witnessing a young boy shot in the back by Trujillo’s officers, Patria channels her intense convictions into the movement.
One of Sushi’s wise decisions in his adaptation of Julia Àlvarez’s acclaimed novel was to shift the spotlight more in Dedè’s direction. While the bulk of the novel is split between first-person narrations from Minerva, Marìa Teresa, and Patria, a greater portion of the play focuses on the elderly Dedè as she discusses her sisters’ legacy with a writer interested in presenting their story (played in a dual role by Carrasco). As a result, Dedè emerges as the most conflicted of the four sisters—the one shrouded in guilt because “someone had to stay behind.” When not speaking, Alvarez is usually seen in the background as the elderly Dedè watching her sister’s movements, reliving the anguish of their ambush while returning home from visiting their husbands in jail and the senselessness of their murders in a sugar cane field.
Rafael Trujillo (played in this production by Eddie Martìnez, among other roles) is not a well-known name for most Americans, and Suchi challenges America’s ignorance of Trujillo’s brutality by referring to the movie stars that visited his yacht and by quoting Time magazine’s praise of Trujillo at the time of his death.
Author Julia Àlvarez is credited with providing the first Engish-language account of Trujillo*. Teatro Vista’s Chicago Premier of “In the Time of Butterflies” is a powerful continuation of Àlvarez’s work, using a new medium to pay tribute to the famed Marabal sisters (code name: “Butterflies”) whose deaths inspired the United Nations to declare November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.