Martín Zimmerman’s extraordinary play “Seven Spots on the Sun” draws upon some of the most ancient theatrical devices to tell a complex, profoundly emotional tale of honor and love, as well as cruelty and horror set in a small Central American village suffering through a brutal civil war. Three actors collectively called The Town (Daniel Penilla, Dianna Aguilar and Michael Uribes) call to mind a Greek chorus as they join with the rest of the cast in choral speech, dance and rhythmic drumming at critical points in the play, beating their fists on the high, curved corrugated steel wall that forms the scenic background of the production. Characters in turn address the audience to reveal thoughts and emotions, bridging the action of years in some ways similar to that of Shakespeare’s Chorus in “Henry V.” The device is theatrical and effective. And the play traverses in time backward and forward to reveal the truth of shattering events.
Moisés (Jonathan Nichols), and his wife Belén (Murielle Zuker) run a clinic in tiny San Ysidro. When the civil war breaks, out soldiers terrorize the countryside indiscriminately killing and torturing men, women and children. After Moise’s wife is spirited away by the military, the doctor becomes a recluse, refusing to open the clinic. But when a plague that affects only children breaks out, he discovers that he has a miraculous power, curing them with the touch of his hands.
Paralleling the doctor’s story line and eventually converging, young Mónica (Natalie Camunas) and Luis (Christopher Rivas) are passionate lovers. When Luis loses his job at a mine, he joins the army to secure a steady job. He wants an easier life for Monica, a washing machine, perhaps, and eventually a house with other appliances. The war, of course, changes everything.
In ninety-five riveting minutes, the play builds in power, leading to a spectacularly emotional climax that seized this audience member in a paroxysm of pity, followed in very short order by a releasing dénouement. “Seven Spots on the Sun” is playwriting of the first order.
The cast, under the keen direction of Michael John Garcés, is superb. Jonathan Nichols gives a powerful performance as Moisés. In the scenes with his wife Belén, Murielle Zuker is ardent and complex. Natalie Camunas as Mónica is erotically playful with her husband and increasingly stoic, as her husband turns inward. As the alcoholic village priest, Angelo McCabe runs the gamut from brave to cowering, acquiescent to forceful, and ultimately to hollow shell.
What adjective can describe the performance of Christopher Rivas as the lover/soldier/recluse husband Luis? Titanic springs to mind. Volcanic would serve as well. Mr. Rivas, along with his castmates, make “Seven Spots on the Sun” terrifically exciting theatre.
The production at The Theatre @ Boston Court, in conjuction with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is well served by Sara Ryung Clement’s flexible scenic design, which has a number of cunningly theatrical surprises. Lighting and video by Tom Ontiveros dramatically enhance the action.
The emotionally satisfying “Seven Spots on the Sun” runs through November 1 at The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena. It is well worth a drive from wherever you are in Greater Los Angeles.