Former Chilean exile Ariel Dorfman’s sorrowful play Widows, adapted from his 1983 novel, begins with a group of peasant women in a wartorn village in an unnamed country, washing laundry by the river. “There’s something wrong with the water today,” says one, cryptically. And, indeed, it’s not long before a man’s faceless corpse floats to the surface, triggering a struggle among the women about who should bury the body: Each believes the man to be her missing loved one (all of the men in the village had “disappeared” years ago under a corrupt regime). Meanwhile, an optimistic new army captain, determined to do right by the women, promises to return the vanished men if the women “behave.” But an old grandmother tired of behaving (the outstanding Ching Valdes-Aran) incites the women to protest against the regime, eventually leading them to their doom.
Heartbreaking and tragic, the play is a poignant reminder of the atrocities that often go unnoticed in the world. Unfortunately, with multiple subplots and more than 20 characters, Dorfman’s epic story never lets us care too deeply about any of the characters. Instead, they come across as symbols of an oppressed society, rather than as real people. Despite the play’s flaws, director Hal Brooks has done an expert job with a strong 18-member cast in this Reverie Productions show, skillfully moving the action on Wilson Chin’s bleak, multi-level set. Actor Guiesseppe Jones stands out as the cruel lieutenant who provokes the well-intentioned captain to finally retaliate against the angry women, leading to a chilling conclusion.