To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Bowling Green State University Department of Theatre offers "Sonia Flew," a meditation on the nature of patriotism.
|Daniel (Brent Winzek) comforts his wife, Sonia (Kate Buis) in BGSU’s production of ‘Sonia Flew.’ (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
First staged in 2004, the drama by Melinda Lopez is on stage a the Joe E. Brown Theatre today, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $9 for seniors and students. Tickets are $3 more the day of the performance. Call (419) 372-2719.
The play, directed by Chanelle Vigue Elliott, opens during the holiday season immediately after the terrorist attacks. "The towers are still burning," college student Zak (Logan Cypher) tells his sister Jen (McLane Nagy).
And while their mother, the Sonia of the title played by Kate Buis, is all abuzz trying to make the celebrations as they always have been, the actors project a sense of underlying unease.
Sonia is so frantic, she barely has time to talk to Zak, who has something to tell her.
He is enlisting in the Marines. Sonia is distraught. This is not what they raised him for. He is "throwing his life away," she says. He has been fulfilling their dreams, attending Brown University and getting top grades.
But Zak sees a greater cause. "It's my time," he said.
Directing her attention to all they have, he asks: "Who pays for all this?"
He's not concerned about the Visa bill, but rather the greater price of his family and the nation's comfort.
That cuts Sonia deep. She is not native born rather she was sent to America from Castro's Cuba when she was 15. She's immersed herself in this new American, specifically Midwestern 7-Up jello salad, identity. Cuba is dead to her, but there's a trauma lurking within that the 9/11 attacks, and now her son's decision, has aggravated.
Buis gives a vivid portrait of a woman on the edge. Buis is never afraid to make her character unsympathetic.
We can sympathize with her husband Daniel (Brent Winzek), who is buffeted by his wife's rages, and Casey Toney strikes just the right note as Daniel's Jewish father. He's at once overbearing, yet sensitive to dynamics he can't quite understand.
He himself fled Poland as a youth, only returning as a soldier in World War II, serving as a model for Zak. He supports Zak's decision though it's clear he bears scars from his own experience.
The trauma that results, dislodges Sonia's memories ... and those unravel in the second act, where the actors from the first act appear as new characters.
We have another household in turmoil. Another child, the 15-year-old Sonia (Nagy) wanting to serve her country.
That country though does not offer all the creature comforts of contemporary America. The shortages of Cuba in the early 1960s are implied. The comforts, good rum, whiskey, fine pastries, a radio that can pick up American broadcasts, are secreted away. Sonia's family is middle class, her father (Toney) is a professor, but that life is endangered. As her mother Pilar (Nicole Navarre) says, the walls are thin.
After the initial blush of joy when Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista regime, the grip of a new totalitarian regime is being felt.
Navarre's Sonia is anxious to go into the countryside to teach, as much to be with her boyfriend Jose (Logan Cypher) as out of a sense of patriotism. In a comic scene, she tries to get her mother to taper her youth cadre uniform so it better shows off her figure.
That bit of humor doesn't last, as the family's situation turns more harrowing. One of the father's colleagues is publicly executed. Sonia witnesses the killing.
Marta, the family's housekeeper who helped deliver Pilar and Sonia, has access to fake visas that will enable Sonia to get out.
Though it means almost certain death, they send her, unwilling as she is, to America as an illegal alien, and as she goes she disowns them.
The cast's ability to so thoroughly adopt different personas is remarkable. Toney, especially, has to go from the bluff confidence of Sam to the cowed, fearful Orfeo, showing in both cases some of the psychological turmoil roiling within.
Buis gets to play large as both the older Sonia and Marta, almost as if young Sonia took Marta's rash talk as a model.
Winzek plays quieter roles in both acts. In the second act he is Tito the Communist operative who lets a sense of humanity faintly shine under his ideological facade.
Navarre gives us a searing portrayal of a mother willing to do anything to protect her daughter, even when her daughter doesn't understand the forces that threaten her.
"Sonia Flew" gives the audience a lens through which to examine our national anxieties, and our own sense of what it means to be a patriot.