We often think of war in the abstract, as a force that periodically afflicts us, like a virus. But we, in fact, create war. We dream up its brutalities, and we are the ones who perpetrate them on one another.
Martín Zimmerman's play "Seven Spots on the Sun," now in its West Coast premiere at the Theatre @ Boston Court, dramatizes the effects of civil war on a village called San Isidro in an unidentified Latin American country. The setting is allegorical rather than naturalistic: We never learn who is fighting whom, or what either side hopes to accomplish. War is simply the environment that these characters occupy and, we learn, helplessly perpetuate.
Formally the play resembles a Greek tragedy. It even features a chorus, actors collectively known as "the Town," who observe, comment on and participate in this fable about two couples whose fates become tragically intertwined.
Moisés (Jonathan Nichols), the town doctor, begins the story in a state of profound withdrawal from his community. In flashbacks, we learn why: His beloved wife, Belén (Murielle Zuker), was murdered by soldiers. She was denied sanctuary by an alcoholic priest (Angelo McCabe) acting out of cowardice.
Meanwhile, in a nearby town, a young laundress, Mónica (Natalie Camunas), reminisces about the husband, Luis (Christopher Rivas), with whom she once shared a fevered passion. Soon after they married, Luis enlisted in the army so that he could afford to buy her a washing machine. But during his service he began to change. Desperate to recover their lost idyll, Mónica struggles to ignore the mounting evidence that Luis is committing atrocities in the name of war.
The twists of fate that bring these characters together involve a disease that afflicts only children and a miraculous healing power that descends on the doctor Moisés; they are more symbolic than credible. But director Michael John Garcés, with the help of his designers, creates a heightened reality in which Zimmerman's stylized poetic language and magical realism in the Latin American tradition fit comfortably, for the most part. Set designer Sara Ryung Clement has built a vaguely militaristic backdrop of patched corrugated metal. Lights by Tom Ontiveros and sound design by John Nobori conspire to create an atmosphere of dread.
Even so, from time to time the staging gets a bit heavy-handed: The production might serve the script better by underplaying some of its fervor. Camunas portrays Monica with an appealing, low-key naturalism, and Nichols is affectingly reserved and grim as Moisés. But some of the other performers occasionally overdo the mad, throbbing grief and twitching rage.
Scenes between Moisés and wife Belén are marked by violent mood swings, punctuated with wild, fake laughter and haunted by pineapples, the much-belabored emblem of their love.
When Moisés and Belén are not hacking up pineapples and slurping up and spitting out the pieces, they are tenderly cradling pineapples, passing pineapples among the townspeople and having visions of giant pineapples whirling in midair (video projections by Ontiveros). The predominance of pineapples occasionally breaks the production's spell, pushing it over the edge from moving to absurd. As anybody who has eaten a fruit salad knows, a little pineapple goes a long way.
"Seven Spots on the Sun," Main Stage at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, with an added performance Wednesday, Sept. 28. Ends Nov. 1. $34. (626) 683-6883 or BostonCourt.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.