Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes)
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NOTE: En Garde Arts will broadcast a video of this performance online for three days only: March 26–28 at 7:30pm. Digital tickets can be purchased for $20 here.
Theater review by Raven Snook
Inspired by the real-life stories of undocumented immigrants, the heartfelt and sometimes exquisite Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) stokes empathy, understanding and righteous ire. En Garde Arts spent two and a half years developing this docutheater piece through interviews and research; playwright Andrea Thome and director José Zayas have woven lightly fictionalized versions of the subjects into a play set at a music-filled party at a New York City community center, where émigrés from Mexico and Latin American countries commiserate and celebrate.
On a no-frills set with occasional projections enhancing the message, the maternal Mariposa (a radiant Jen Anaya) oversees the festivities. Her would-be boyfriend, Rogelio (a sympathetic Carlo Albán), and his cousin Elvin (Andrés Quintero) are anxiously waiting for Johan (Roberto Tolentino), who may have been picked up by ICE. Meanwhile, Pili (Frances Ines Rodriguez, a veteran stage manager making a remarkable performing debut) and Rafaela (Silvia Dionicio) are hoping to run into an art teacher who changed their lives.
It's refreshing that Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), which is scheduled to play in venues throughout the five boroughs, is not just a sob story. Beautifully embodied by a winning ensemble of actor-vocalist-musicians, the characters have dreams and desires that go beyond the difficulties they face. And when they launch into Sinuhé Padilla's gorgeous Spanish-language folk numbers, the show sings in every sense. English translations are offered on a pair of elevated screens, but you don't need the words to understand their longing, sadness, joy and love.
The show’s poetic monologues are also quite moving, as is a sequence that conjures crossing the border. But its imposed narrative does the source material a disservice. Despite the actors' best efforts, the dialogue sometimes slips into exposition or didacticism, making the characters sound more like political mouthpieces than real people. Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) teaches its lessons best when it targets our hearts, not our heads. Thankfully, its aim is mostly good.
Multiple venues (Off-Off Broadway). By Andrea Thome. Songs by Sinuhé Padilla. Directed by José Zayas. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission