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‘Margarida’s’: Abuse of Power in Brazil

Abuse of power is the subject of Roberto Athayde’s one-woman play, “Miss Margarida’s Way,” opening Wednesday at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts’ Theatre/Teatro.

“It was written in 1973 as a criticism of Brazil’s totalitarian regime,” explained actress Ilka Tanya Payan, who’s been performing the piece for the past three years. (Last fall, she took it to Spain’s International Theatre Festival.) “Since there was censorship (in Brazil), the playwright couldn’t write anything critical of the government. So he wrote this: a criticism of the teaching profession--but clearly, a criticism of the military regime.

“Fortunately, the military was not very bright and they didn’t notice. They thought the play was about the sexual frustration of a woman. I’ve also heard it called anti-feminist. My response to that is that the author, by giving power to a woman, shows us our prejudices. Because the image is grotesque. It’s not about men and women, but the abuse of power--in this case by a woman. She honestly believes she’s telling the truth, and doing these things for your own good. That’s what people in power always say: ‘I’m doing this for you.’ ”

A graduate of L.A.'s People’s College of Law, Payan balances her acting work with her other career--as an immigration attorney in New York and Puerto Rico. “It is difficult,” she admits of the juggling act. Also challenging: along with her Spanish-language performances (which began at BFA last week), Payan will be playing “Margarida” in English--the first time for her. “When you do something in another language, it feels like you’re not doing the same play,” she stressed. “The rhythms change, and the characters change. Anyway, that’s how I feel.”

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Romulus Linney’s novel, “Slowly by Thy Hand Unfurled,” has become a play--"A Woman Without a Name,” opening Friday at International City Theatre.

“I heard about this when it was done at the Denver Center (in 1985),” offered ICT artistic director Shashin Desai, who’s staging the work. “I felt it would fit into our schedule--emotionally. The subject is a simple God-fearing woman who goes through the disappointments and calamities of life in 1900 to find self-recognition and fulfillment. She faces up to her guilt about her children (including her daughter, who dies during an abortion--after being impregnated by her brother), and she’s free.”

The story unfolds in flashback as the woman (true to the title, she has no name) recalls her life: trying to elevate her family from the mediocrity of their South Carolina town, taking over her husband’s business when he falls victim to alcohol, and campaigning to improve the status of women. “She reads (aloud) from her journal,” noted Desai, who staged “West Memphis Mojo” and “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little” at the theater. “When she refers to her journal, she faces her conscience.”

Julianna McCarthy (an alumna of the CBS soap “The Young and the Restless”) plays the title role.

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CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: John Godber’s and Jane Thornton’s “Shakers,” on a quartet of sassy barmaids at a London pub, opened last month at the Odyssey Theatre. Ron Link directs Kristin Lowman, Cameron Milzer, Leslie Sachs and Yeardley Smith.

The Times’ Sylvie Drake compared the production to Godber’s previous hit, “Bouncers”: “The problems of style over content that existed in the male play prevail in the female one too. The methodology is superior--staccato dialogue, women playing men, cartoonish exchanges, touching monologues--but the material is thin.”

In the Orange County Register, Jeff Rubio also addressed the likeness to “Bouncers.” “But the writing here is keener and funnier. The authors pay better and more theatrically fluid attention to the individuality of the characters. The setting is more feminine, less boisterous. In place of a deafening rap beat, there are adult contemporary sounds.”

From Tom Jacobs in the Daily News: “At its heart, for all its belly laughs, ‘Shakers’ is about consciousness-raising. It is proof that ‘feminism’ and ‘fun’ are not mutually exclusive concepts. It is also proof that there’s much life left in the art form known as theater.”

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Drama-Logue’s F. Kathleen Foley noted that director Link, “who also directed ‘Bouncers’, brings a great deal of verve and panache to his material. In this production, style is all, and with Link as artistic arbiter, it is quite enough. His direction is so crisp it crackles.”

The Herald-Examiner’s Richard Stayton disagreed: “The story rarely expands beyond minor skits. A few isolated monologues and some feminist ‘sharing’ bits are spliced onto the narrative like guilty afterthoughts. Therefore the jokes resemble juvenile cartoons rather than surreal graffiti.”

Said Willard Manus in the Outlook: “ ‘Shakers’ is pop theater at its best: vulgar, broad, fast-paced, rambunctious and funny. It is also moving and warm. Best of all, it offers bravura peformances.”

Last, from Amy Dawes in Daily Variety: “The chief pleasure of ‘Shakers'--its imagination, its performances, and the quirky cadences of its Cockney dialogue--are pure theater. The cast fairly crackles with cohesive energy under Link’s savvy direction.”

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