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The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre
Three Calla Lilies

By Abniel Marat
Translator: Charles Philip Thomas
Directed by Josean Ortiz
The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre
304 West 47th Street
NY, NY 10036

Starring: Elvira Franco, Dalia Davis,
Susan Rybin, Sophia Angelica
Angelica Lugo, Crystal Espinal

Set Design: Ann Barteck
Lighting Design: Wilburn Bonnel
Costume Coordinator: Adolfo Vásquez
Producer: Miriam Colón Valle

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 25, 2008

Some of the best theatre this season has been in the smaller, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway venues, like The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre. Three Calla Lilies tells a tale about three sisters and three daughters, who come together for a ceremony to bury their mother’s ashes. One sister, Elvira Franco, as a blind nun, opens the play to a haunting song and relates a dream about her mother to the next sister to appear, Dalia Davi, as Helena. Helena is a wealthy former model, married to a successful businessman, and lives in the elegant apartment where the action takes place. Sterling silver, champagne, and fine clothing abound. The third sister, Susan Rybin, as Petra, who has been in a US prison for political activism in the cause of Puerto Rican independence, has been allowed to return to San Juan on temporary leave. The time is 1983, and Petra has left her daughter, Marina, named to protest the US Marine presence in Puerto Rico, in Helena’s care. Helena has her own two daughters, Coco and Edith, named for Chanel and Piaf.

The entire, intermission-less play revolves around very heated and somewhat poetic discussions about bourgeois trappings, husbands and lovers, which daughter their mother loved most, and which daughter their mother loved least. As generations pass on similar patterns, the three girls also vied for Helena’s attention, treating Marina as a quasi-Cinderella. When Petra and Marina are re-united, that moment and all subsequent moments reveal a soft, maternal side of this feisty, fiery persona. Helena’s offstage husband figures prominently in the unfolding drama, as does the deceased mother. The dialogue (on this English version night) would have benefitted from more Spanish idioms. I have spent some time in San Juan, and language and gesture are intrinsic to the culture. Charles Philip Thomas did the translations, and Josean Ortiz directed the Abniel Marat play. Most of the audience was Spanish-speaking, and I suspect that they attend both language versions, as they seemed to anticipate the characters’ conversation. I look forward to seeing more productions at this venue, perhaps in Spanish as well.

Dalia Davi, Susan Rybin, Elvira Franco
in "Three Calla Lillies"
Courtesy of Gerry Goodstein

Susan Rybin, Dalia Davi, Elvira Franco,
Gabriela Lugo, Sophia Angelica, Crystal Espinal
in "Three Calla Lillies"
Courtesy of Gerry Goodstein

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at