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Thursday
Nov082012

COMMENTARY: WISE WOMEN SPEAK THROUGH RENAISSANCE THEATERWORKS PRODUCTIONS

While Renaissance Theaterworks celebrates their 20th anniversary this entire season, two productions with ties to their company ran simultaneously this fall. While Irena’s Vow played in the Nancy Kendall Theater at Cardinal Stritch University for a special artistic collaboration, a selection from the company’s own season Enfrascada continues at the Broadway Theatre Center through November 11. Each production relates the valuable theme of what might define being a “wise woman.” 

The first production Irena’s Vow became an artistic collaboration between Cardinal Stritch University’s Theater Department and the Renaissance Theaterworks staff. Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Susan Fete directed the Stritch production adapted from a true story with the company’s Producing Director Julie Swenson bringing Irena to life. The play presents a harrowing vision of an 18-year old Catholic Polish girl who becomes intertwined with the Nazis during World War II. Based on a true story, Irena displays wise judgment in saving 12 young Jewish people while putting her own life in dangerous circumstances.

Irena suffered at the Nazi’s hands numerous times during the war despite her young age. After she became the housekeeper of a prominent German officer, she fed and hid the Jews. When Irena knew these workers might be discovered, she moved them to a safer place.  When the German officer discovered his trusted servant Irena was hiding Jewish workers in his house, she became his mistress to save them. Swenson captures Irena with an believable innocence that underscores her precocious maturity and thoughtful wisdom.

Irena’s wisdom might be best illustrated when one of the Jewish couples discover they are expecting a child.  While the 11 captives voted to ask Irena to find the medical equipment to terminate the pregnancy, Irena’s better judgment tells her to ask what this Jewish woman really desired. She wanted to keep her baby, which the remaining 11 were afraid would endanger their own lives. Irena chooses to save a life, save this baby as a sign of future hope. 

Early on the story, Irena experiences a German soldier murdering a Jewish baby and mother right on the street before her terrorized eyes, a scene she constantly remembered. Irena vows to only save lives instead of destroying them. Her self-sacrifice enabled everyone’s escape when she wisely plans for their safety after her German employer was moved to another location, with the tiny newborn infant and the family saved first. A wise woman placed under duress in each complicated, new situation.

In RTW’s second production Enfrascada, the play features four Latina women to highlight the company’s Diversity Series featuring Yadira Correa, Karen Estrada, Annie Henk, Yunuen Pardo and Rána Roman. Each of their characters represent a contemporary woman from playwright Tanya Saracho’s life (a Co-founder of Chicago’s Teatro Luna in 2000) similar to the three Señoras prominent in the play who solve the problems these four women face. A Señora or “wise woman” as she is still called, has enlightened the Latina culture for decades. At one wekend performance, one of these marvelous “healers” that the cast was familiar with traveled from Chicago and was available to RTW audience members for consultation this past weekend. 

This Señora also spoke by translation at an event held after the Sunday performance, a most interesting discussion that interspersed the cast members discussing there distinct place in Latin American culture, which included someone of Latin American heritage yet having little ability to speak Spanish because the woman was raised as a first generation American. This situation appeared in Saracho's play when one of the characters needs a translator to speak to the Señora for assistance, to explain her crisis. 

However, the lovely woman speaking to the audience about her life as a Señora stated she had known of her healing gifts since she was a child, almost from when she was in the womb. A transformative experience when she was six years old frightened her at this tender age, although over time she began to see and use her gifts “wisely.” Several actresses from the production use a Señora regularly, this wise woman becoming an intimate part of people’s lives, and the Señora knew Saracho, they were friends and learned from each other, as women do.  

Wise women support other women. Similar to Irena saving the Jewish workers and a baby’s life, together with these characters from Saracho’s play that stand by their friend in distress, encourage her to use their Señoras who assist as both a counselors and healers, attempting to smooth a life crisis for their friend. The play reinforces the fact Renaissance Theaterworks has consistently supported new and established women actors, directors, playwrights and theater technicians to make a significant impact in Milwaukee and Midwest Theater.

This includes the company’s present Administrative Assistant, Mallory Mextoxen, a former Stritch University graduate, who was asked to be an assistant director several times in the past, including working with Fete for Irena’s Vow. Because of this encouragement and experience, the city might see her name as a “Director” next season for one of the many theater companies Milwaukee enjoys, in the footsteps of Laura Gordon or Mary McDonald Kerr.   

Wise decisions such as these ensure the community will enjoy the privilege of another professional and talented woman’s gifts, and many more in the future. This month Renaissance Theaterworks sends out letters for its 2012 Costume Campaign, an annual fundraiser to keep their actors dressed and ready for the stage in 2013. Be a supportive theater enthusiast and assist these unbelievably gifted professionals who have the courage and perseverance for 20 years to produce exceptional theatre through the voices of wise women in Milwaukee.

Renaissance Theaterworks presents Enfrascada at the Broadway Theatre Center in the Studio Theatre through November 11. Donations to the 2012 Costume Campaign can be made by contacting the Theater Company. For further information, please call 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

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