Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) y la experiencia humana e inmigrante

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, September 7, 2022


“If you don’t have the language, how does anyone know you?” Rogelio beseeches the audience, and the question (at odds with what often feels like a social disconnect of empathy for the immigrant experience) sparks a hundred bigger ones. This intentionality of a carefully crafted experience from joyous claiming of culture and heritage to deep grieving and morir de sentimiento, to abused power differentials by policía, federales, coyotes paid to ferry desperate families, to the elegant extended metaphor of a spider on a web floating on a breeze hasta que encontramos un ancla - is at the core of Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) playing September 25 at La Jolla Playhouse.


The production centers around a single evening event - a fandango, or music and dance gathering - which is happening in a small community center in Chula Vista, coinciding with the same night of an ICE raid throughout the city. The church-based location has been decreed a sanctuary and Mari hopes that this will serve to bring people together to celebrate their cultural overlaps and to honor what they have left behind. This En Garde Arts production of Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), written by Andrea Thome, with original music by Sinuhé Padilla, and directed by José Zayas, celebrates the resiliency of a community of diverse people who have been through Purgatorio and seek connection, hope, and support from their neighbors on the other side.


The actors in this production embody their roles with all of the joy, hope, devastation, and fear you might expect. Mari (Jen Anaya) carries the pressures of trying to care for a family member plagued by hypertension from afar and seeking to stay afloat so that they can send financial aid. Mari, or Mariposa, represents hope, and shares this by creating spaces to welcome and support the community. In the role, Anaya is sunshine - they beautifully capture Mari’s uninhibited joy and positivity. Silvia Dionicio is also lovely as the awkward but bright teen Rafaela; her performance reminded me of a time when I, too, was a bit uncomfortable in my skin. It’s lovely to see her friendship with Pili (Frances Ines Rodriguez) develop and they play well off of each other. Rogelio (played by Carlo Albán) is another stage favorite; it is easy to empathize with his feelings of being shackled and unseen, and the romantic tension with Mari sizzles (and is put on ice) in a way that maintains the likeability of the role. Albán is candid and real, and the audience relates to that. The other outstanding actor/musicians in this ensemble production include Danny Ray Caraballo, Roberto Tolentino, Sinuhé Padilla, and Tania Mesa. The set - characterized by sunset-colored walls, suspended trellis rooflines, and papel picado - is beautiful and creatively lit and navigated; the thrust stage of the Mandell Weiss Forum is really a great space for this intimate piece.


On a side note, as a bilingual teacher and writer who is a non-native Spanish speaker, I hit a point in my education where thoughts would materialize alternately in Spanish and English. As the years have passed, I have had less opportunity to access my dual languages, which has, sadly, resulted in decreasing comfortability with my fluency. This show, however, which was told in a bilingual format (most dialogue was in English and most songs were in Spanish), included the incorporation of subtitles projected on two large screens on opposite ends of the theater. And, while I certainly was engaged by the work of the performers (and designers) on the stage, I found my eyes also darting to the subtitles often, even when the dialogue was in my native language. The language used throughout was simply exquisite. Through the use of metaphor, descriptive passages, and non-direct translations, a script and songs have been crafted that are poetic and elegant in either language, and therefore are special for those who have access to both. As I left the theater, my mind was swirling with thoughts en español and English concurrently about the production, a welcome surprise as it happens less often.


Esta producción nos permite discutir la experiencia humana e inmigrante. Enaltece y celebra las cosas que nos hacen únicos, especialmente en relación a nuestras culturas, y a la misma vez, muestra la diversidad de gente que vive aquí en San Diego - específicamente en los regiones con alta concentración de latino/as, y a una verdad universal donde todos somos inmigrantes, navegando por la vida a través de las generaciones por las mismas razones: por razones de seguridad, para apoyar a nuestras familias, tener acceso a la educación y por amor.


Pero a la misma vez, esta obra de teatro atrayendo atención a un tema más insidioso: a través de varias escenas que muestran inmigración real de cada personaje (con los que, a estas alturas, hemos creado una relación), la audiencia se ve obligada a ver el lado oscuro de este historia: específicamente, la privación de derechos, el abuso y el terror que nuestros vecinos han tenido que afrontar para sobrevivir, y su cruda desesperación por cruzar una línea, creada por poder, simplemente para buscar oportunidades. Esta obra los hará reflexionar.*


Ultimately, in a highly choreographed, intentional, and devastatingly long scene about the literal physical movement/immigration of the characters in the play, the discomfort in the venue could be cut with a knife... and was, as such, noteworthy. This tense and challenging scene is bookended in many ways by more lighthearted fare, but it was those minutes that will doubtless keep the audience reeling as they leave. That's because they force the audience (and even one character) to wrestle with differing privilege and opportunity. If the show does its job, and I think it does, it will lift spirits in its celebrations of culture while also not shying away from the trauma faced by our own vecinos, those who seek a safe, healthy, and happy home at any cost.


Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) runs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m, at 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays through September 25 at the Mandell Weiss Forum of the La Jolla Playhouse. Tickets: LaJollaPlayhouse.org.


*For my English-speaking readers: This production gives us permission to discuss the human and immigrant experience. It extols and celebrates the things that make us unique, especially in relationship to our cultures, and at the same time, shows the diversity of people living here in San Diego, specifically in regions with high concentrations of Latino/as, and a universal truth where we are all immigrants, navigating life across generations for the same reasons: for safety, to support our families, to access education, and for love.


But at the same time, this play draws attention to something more insidious: through various scenes that show the actual immigration for each character (with whom, by now, we have created a relationship), the audience is forced to see the dark side of this story: specifically, the disenfranchisement, abuse and terror that our neighbors have had to face to survive, and their raw desperation to cross a line, created by power, simply to seek opportunity. This play creates that space for reflection.


A program is shown in front of the stage of Fandango for Butterflies (And Coyotes)

Pili and Sinuhé watch as Rogelio teaches Rafaela la jaranda.
(L-R) Frances Ines Rodriguez, Carlo Albán, Sinuhé Padilla (behind) and Silvia Dionicio in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of En Garde Arts’ FANDANGO FOR BUTTERFLIES (AND COYOTES); photo by Rich Soublet II.

Elvin, Mari, and Rogelio are set against a backdrop of shadows as they discuss the serpiente.
Danny Ray Caraballo, Jen Anaya, Carlo Alban in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of En Garde Arts’ FANDANGO FOR BUTTERFLIES (AND COYOTES); photo by Rich Soublet II.


Special note: Mil gracias a mi amigo Dionicio. Your eyes on my Spanish are deeply appreciated.

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