By Martín Zimmerman
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The brutality of war – any war – leaves its mark on the communities war leaves behind: on the land and on the people who inhabit the land. The soldiers in the fictional South American country featured in Martin Zimmerman’s “Seven Spots on the Sun,” currently playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, leave a palm-print on a wooden plank before they leave a town and after committing heinous crimes against its citizenry. These prints serve as a warning and a challenge to the residents to see how they will respond to the savagery – will they attempt to rescue the dying neighbors or leave them to die for fear of reprisal? What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on?
The answers to these rich and enduring questions are the subject of Mr. Zimmerman’s allegorical tale involving the stories of two couples affected by the fictional – but all too real – civil war. Physician Moises (Rey Lucas) and his nurse wife Monica (Flor De Liz Perez) care for the wounded in their under-resourced clinic in San Isidro. Luis (Sean Carvajal) and Belen (Flora Diaz) are a couple facing the horrors of war through Luis’s enlistment in the army. These couples collide in a surprising and transformative way as the complex play progresses.
In addition to these four characters, there is the local priest Eugenio (Peter Jay Fernandez) and The Town (Claudia Acosta, Cesar J. Rosado, and Socorro Santiagi) whose “inhabitants” play several roles in the play and serves as a “Greek-chorus” commenting on the action of the play and providing needed exposition.
In development since 2009, “Seven Spots on the Sun” raises questions about making choices and having convictions and uses the framework of civil war to address these queries. There are no heroes in this play and there is no redemption for anyone involved: neither for the citizens nor for the “soldados.” And there is no healing: both the institutions of church and medicine fail to provide release from suffering and death. Even Moises’s sudden ability to heal by the “laying on of hands” is tinged with his vengeful demands upon Belen and Luis.
Mr. Zimmerman’s characters seem underdeveloped and it is difficult to care deeply for any of them. Each has an important choice (or two) to make and each seems to make the wrong choice: choices that destroy, dehumanize, degrade, and drive death. Despite their singular and collective efforts, these characters are not able to change the climate of post-war life.
Weyni Mengesha’s uneven direction detracts from Mr. Zimmerman’s extended metaphor and often undermines the play’s magical realism and extensive use of tropes. “Seven Spots on the Sun” does not have a traditional dramatic structure and requires non-traditional direction (and staging). Sunspots, pineapples, a washing machine, and hand prints (one with a missing finger) vie for meaning in “Seven Spots on the Sun” and, under Ms. Mengesha’s direction, these tropes often conspire to confuse rather than to elucidate meaning.
Mr. Zimmerman’s play is successful in its efforts to focus on the effects of war and is worth the look. What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on? “Seven Spots on the Sun” grapples with that question without providing clear answers.