A different class of mad woman receives a more serious, but less compelling, portrait at Nosotros Theatre.
"Elvira's Cross" is a somber, bleak and ultimately pretentious tale about a peasant servant who murders her four children and then attempts suicide, only to be "rescued" and imprisoned for 40 years.
Victor Hugo Rascon Banda is celebrated as one of Mexico's most important playwrights. (The U.S. premiere of his "Contrabando" is currently at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.)
In the program, Rascon Banda states that his play was inspired by a true case. He declares that the mother's crimes were caused "by hunger, abandonment and marginalization."
Rascon Banda also writes, "This is not a testimony or documentary on the life of this woman." He concludes by stating: "I believe it is a must for a playwright to generalize and transcend a given situation instead of particularizing it."
Unfortunately, this approach leads to a style of religious allegory that diminishes the woman's tragedy into opera. By concentrating on myth, he makes her story into a purgatory lacking humanity, and sadly victimizes the poor woman yet one more time.
His perspective is compounded by director Ruben Amavizca's approach. To "illustrate the universality of Elvira's story," as Amavizca writes in the program, the cast's five actresses take turns portraying the doomed woman. These transformations are signaled by a skirt, ritually exchanged between actresses.
This makes it difficult to identify with a woman named Elvira. We watch "The Condition of Women," not a character.
In Rascon Banda's treatment, she seems doggedly determined to remain a victim. Not once does she learn from her experiences. Her relentless passivity becomes a pathetic excuse for murdering four children, a crime Rascon Banda chooses to motivate with "madness."
The talented company, Grupo de Teatro Sinergia, is obviously committed to the material. Director Amavizca's device of two "cantors" connecting the scenes with song works quite well, particularly since Frank Arias and Javier Villegas are excellent musicians.
Perhaps this weekend's Spanish-language version will prove more effective. But in English, "Elvira's Cross" remains a passion play without passion.
* "Elvira's Cross" ("La Fiera del Ajusco"), Nosotros Theatre, 1314 N. Wilton Place, Hollywood; today-Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m. (in Spanish). Ends Sunday. $10. (213) 876-0608. Running time: 2 hours. Also at the Civic Theatre in Huntington Park: Next Friday-May 15 (in English), May 21-22 (Spanish), May 28-29 (Spanish). UC Riverside: June 26, 8 p.m. (English).