Kiki Melendez Shines in “Madres y Heroinas”

Dominican Republic Revealed Through A Form Of Art During One Of Their Most Oppressive Periods

–Review by Velia de la Garda

In a riveting dramatic role, comedienne Kiki Melendez takes a break from comedy to play a small part in the play, Madres y HeroinasMothers and Heroines recently performed at Teatro Frida Kahlo, and brings to the stage the lives of two leaders of the Dominican Republic. One is a revered poet and educator, Salome Ureña de Henriquez, who lived during the late 1800’s and the other is Florinda Soriano Muñoz, better known as “Mama Tingo” who led the land rights movement from 1966 to her death in 1974.

Although both women lived during different periods and were from different social classes, both dedicated their lives to improving the education and basic human rights of their people. In the play the juxtaposition of these women’s lives can be seen when placed next to each other with their stories alternating between acts. Melendez plays a passionate farm worker who cries out the importance of Mama Tingo’s fight and rallies support for her actions against the military who repeatedly try to remove her from her dwelling.

What is fascinating is seeing how these women think.  Their inner thoughts are revealed through poem, dance and song that mix with dialogue depicting what life could have been like for these two leaders. Ludo Vika, a Kahlo stage veteran, is the austere, deeply sensitive Salome Ureña. She sets out to free the country’s well-to-do women by establishing a girl’s school and educates more than a dozen young women.  Still to this day, Ureña is considered a revered poet and the central figure for the education of women in her country.

“Don’t leave me alone and raise your voices as there is plenty of land and enough for everyone,” cries out Mama Tingo performed by Jane Santos, of Dominican television fame.  Mama Tingo is constantly harassed by national policemen and fearing for the life of her son. At one point, she ties him to a chair afraid the police will take him away from her if she has him outside of her watch.  Santos delivers a gut wrenching performance in the play which brings back the land struggle of the people during one of the most oppressive periods in the history of the Dominican Republic.

The play is written, produced and directed by a mother and daughter team. Ana Baez is the writer and a former Biology professor from the Dominican Republic.  Her daughter, Yulisa Karina is the director/producer.  This is Karina’s second play she has produced and directed for Teatro Frida Kahlo. For both, Madres y Heroinas is their first attempt at writing and directing a play together.  They hope to bring the play back in the fall in English as well as Spanish and perform it in Los Angeles as well as in New York.