The University Spanish Theater Group put on a compelling rendition of “Las putas de San Julián” this past weekend, performing four shows at the Helms Theater. Arguably the most intimate performance space on Grounds, the black box theater served as the perfect venue for the play written by Rubén Mosquera, who was in Charlottesville this weekend in attendance of the show and even offered a brief commentary at the end of the matinee on Friday, Feb. 9.
Interviewed last week in anticipation of the production, director Fernando Operé emphasized his commitment to the current fervor of the women’s movement and how “Las putas” puts a spotlight on female leads. As outlined in the director’s note of the program, playwright Mosquera wrote this piece in conjunction with the historical anecdote written by Osvaldo Bayer, and was able to poignantly reveal a story once lost from Argentinian history.
Operé’s 38 years of experience were on display as the story of “Las putas” was brought to life within a quaint and comfortable set. The main setting — the brothel where the women worked and lived — was adorned with a record player and colorfully embroidered wooden furniture. There was a certain strength in the feminine aesthetic expressed through the props and decoration of the set.
Beyond this, each of the six prostitutes were dressed in generally floral, soft and flowy dresses unique to each of their distinct spirits. The head of the brothel, Doña Paulina, was played by professional actress Mercedes Herrero, who wore a gorgeous blue dress, demonstrating her superiority as well as economic distinction from the women who worked for her.
As each woman was interrogated by the Sargento for their collective refusal to serve the Argentinian soldiers who murdered the workers on strike, the black box was transformed by opposite-positioned spotlights blacking out the centered, warm setting. Operé tastefully arranged these both emotionally and physically violent interactions, effectively intimating the harm inflicted upon the women in a detached but still disturbing manner.
The audience was decidedly struck by the first scene, as well as first interrogation between Consuelo and the Sargento. The tone was set by doctoral student Jessica Marroquín, who achingly demonstrated the fear and intensity with which the proceedings took place in her portrayal of Consuelo. This was a consistent aspect of the play, ramped up with each separate character. Despite this, there were moments of levity in scenes where the women interacted together, as if bound by familial ties. They bicker in one moment in Scene V between Consuelo and María, played by Spanish Prof. Alicia López-Operé. After fighting over the legitimacy of María’s love with one of her closest clients, her “chilenito,” María concedes to Consuelo, “Mira Consuelo que eres una grandísima hija de puta, pero que lindo cantas... No quieres que volvamos a ser amigas…” eliciting laughter from the audience. The quote roughly translates to, “Consuelo, you are a big son of a bitch, but how beautiful you sing. Do you want to be friends again?”
For native speakers who attended the show, as well as students at varying levels of Spanish, all seemed to positively react throughout the production. This goes to show how important it is that not only are women’s voices heard through protagonists’ roles in stories, but more specifically that women from cultural contexts different than that of Charlottesville’s should receive their due representation.
“Las putas” played a part in spreading stories that need to be told through art. It told the story of six strong and independent women, unapologetically surviving and simultaneously standing up for what was just and right in the historic context of the Patagonia Rebelde. If there was one takeaway from this play, it is that it does not take an army, but simply a group of resolute and unwavering people to make a difference — and women at that. Thankfully for those who remembered this story and these women, Bayer and Mosquera, their memory is preserved in a beautiful piece of art.