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Saturday night’s performance of “Parted Waters” at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe was a treat for the mind, heart and soul.
Local playwright Robert Benjamin’s drama of a New Mexican family grappling with their Judaic roots presents a credible snapshot of how three generations of Hispanic men come to different terms with their ancestry.
On yet another level, the play suggests the crucial need for acceptance and respect for cultural differences among all people.
In his depiction of three generations of men, Benjamin demonstrates a keen sense of both the malleability and rigidity of religious views. Reynaldo, the grandfather in “Parted Waters,” is a descendant of conversos, Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism after leaving Spain and Portugal for Mexico some 500 years ago. Some conversos made their way to New Mexico in the 1600s.
Reynaldo is a woodcarver of santos (carved and decorated wooden saints) and mayordomo (foreman) of the neighborhood acequia (irrigation ditch), and while openly practicing Catholicism, is also secretly Jewish (crypto-Judaic).
As the family patriarch, he expresses his devotion to multiple faiths while maintaining a good sense of humor, which adds levity to an otherwise very intense drama.
As an educated and content Catholic, Reynaldo’s son, Javier, cannot reconcile himself to the contradictions of his father’s religious beliefs.
He has not communicated any information of his Jewish ancestry to his grown son, Miguel, and has forbidden Reynaldo from doing so, fearing that Miguel’s life would become more difficult if the truth were known.
Miguel is an well-educated hydrologist with a promising future and he hopes to win a House seat in the New Mexico Legislature.
Miguel has chosen Rachel, a young Jewish woman who also happens to be the daughter of his political opponent, Phyllis Goldstein, to be his campaign manager. Estranged from her mother, Rachel is determined to make Miguel a success in the primary both to get back at her mother and to continue a growing friendship between Miguel and her.
When Miguel makes an unintended anti-Semitic remark at a town hall debate with Rachel’s mother, the family is nearly torn apart. Miguel learns of his crypto-Jewish roots and is confused and tortured by feelings of guilt and anger. A family encounter that begins with abrasive words escalates to physical violence where one person nearly dies.
Fran Marcone is the director of “Parted Waters,” and the cast includes Argos MacCallum as Reynaldo, Tom Romero as Javier, Lisa Bayta Friedland as Rachel and Angelo Jaramillo as Miguel. As the founding member of Teatro Paraguas and long-time resident of New Mexico, MacCallum said that “Parted Waters” has created an unusual closeness with the members of the cast.
The intimacy of the theater amplifies this near-familial relationship that the audience is able to sense.
As the family comes to grips with their reasons for choosing their own spiritual paths, the audience may acknowledge the faultless and very realistic positions of the three generations. Teatro Paraguas’s stated objective to “create bridges of understanding between different cultures and nationalities by emphasizing the commonalities present in all of our lives, dreams, and hopes” becomes a reality in “Parted Waters.”
The production of “Parted Waters” continues at Teatro Paraguas, 3221 B Richards Lane, Santa Fe, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
A matinee will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday. From Feb. 25-27, it will be presented at Capital High School’s Brian Fant Theater, 4851 Paseo del Sol.
Ticket prices at $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. Sunday matinees are on a “pay what you wish” basis. Reservations are recommended: 505-424-1601.