Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why we fight: 'Sonia Flew' at Steppenwolf

Sandra MarquezMotivations are complicated in war, not only for those who volunteer to fight but for their families. Melinda Lopez doesn't telegraph them in the Boston playwright's "Sonia Flew."

The Steppenwolf Theatre cast, directed by Steppenwolf's Jessica Thebus with Sandra Marquez of Chicago's Teatro Vista in the title role, does not overplay this efficient drama mining a rich vein of material.

In the first act son Zak (Andrew Perez) disrupts a Hanukkah visit from his grandfather with the news that he would enlist in the Marines. At the start his choice comes across as a search for purpose after the Sept. 11 bombings and a bond with his grandfather, a Polish refugee and World War II veteran (Steppenwolf vet Alan Wilder, light on the schtick). This sets up a fight with her mother Sonia (Marquez), who won't fly since 9/11 yet is protective of her son and hurt by the late revelation.

But this wouldn't be drama if there wasn't additional revelations in store, and they come in the form of Sonia's history in Cuba, and the family decision that 40 years later she still could not reconcile. Steppenwolf loves the second-act flashback that explains everything (hello, Richard Greenberg). Operation Pedro Pan informs how mother and son come by their different ways to fight for a safe family.

My seatmate took the play as a lesson on what is left unsaid in war. But Sonia's embrace of her adoptive surroundings has an underlying anger that politics alone cannot explain, and her tentative grasp on that security goes beyond the question of whether she can forgive her son or forget her parents.

"Sonia Flew" tries to be a convincing family drama as well as a 9/11 play, and that gives its social perspective added bite as the audience learns why the 15-year-old Sonia flew.

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