IMPRESSIONS: Loco7 Dance Puppet Theatre Company's "Lunch with Sonia"
Part of the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival
Lunch with Sonia, April 12-16, 2023
Created and Directed by Federico Restrepo and Denise Greber
Choreographed by Federico Restrepo
Puppet, Light, Video, and Set Design by Federico Restrepo
Sound Design and Music by Leonie Bell
Costume Design by Becky Hubbert
Featuring: Marina Celander, Catherine Correa, Aaron Haskell, Hope Kroog, Jorge Blanco Muñoz, Steven Orrego Upegui, and Federico Restrepo
Voice of Sonia: Luz Beatriz Pizano
Performers in Kitchen Video: Alberto Quiroga, with Esmeralda Pinzon, Carolina Restrepo, Federico Restrepo, and Natalia Schönwald
Camera: Alberto Sierra Restrepo
Introduced by the indefatigable, longstanding curator, Nicky Paraiso, during the 18th season of the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival, Loco7’s multidisciplinary work, Lunch with Sonia, is dedicated to Sonia Jaramillo (1940-2012). Loco7 has enjoyed a long association with La MaMa having been founded there by Federico Restrepo in 1986.
The work, which is told by dancers, puppets, video, music, and spoken and recorded narration in English and Spanish, opens with the sprightly, salt and pepper-haired Restrepo, co-creator and director, slicing the air, turning tight circles, bending sideways, and hopping in place with legs together. An articulated, bluish silver, 18-inch-high metal puppet (we meet puppet Sonia later) is handled by three black-hatted puppeteers and mirrors the dancer’s movements. The puppet lies on the dancer’s back, and later their palms touch. A recorded Sonia suggests, “Fred, pour yourself a drink. I have everything set for my death day.” Thus, begins Lunch with Sonia, a true tale of euthanasia, sensitively and effectively handled.
Most striking are the marvelous puppets — colorful macaws flying to the sound of bird calls; the intrepid, metal puppet that interacts with fellow movers; charming tousled-headed teenagers dangling from a stick; a life-sized young moppet-headed boy clinging to his mother; and a small flesh-colored Sonia, as a girl, who dances. The central presence, the giant, pink-frocked, gray-haired Sonia, is a force in life, as well as on stage. The puppet handlers are flawless.
Sonia explains in a recorded voice to her family and friends that her debilitating respiratory illness is getting worse, and, therefore, she chooses to die before she is incapable of making cognizant decisions. The reaction to the pronouncement ranges from horror to acceptance. Everyone has something to say. Sonia’s daughter whimpers, “Why was this decision not discussed with me?”
Sonia explains gently that the time of her death is her last choice, and she chooses to die at the appointed hour with dignity. She shares with everyone that they are loved and that she is happy. (She nuzzles her two puppet macaws, who land on her puppet arms.) Despite opposition from family members, she will carry this through.
The play leads up to Sonia’s last day, a festive luncheon gathering of family and friends in her home in Bogotá, Colombia. She sits regally on her plush turquoise throne, her oxygen tank whooshing while classical music plays in the background. A dancer-guest jetés across the room, hugs Sonia, and then elegantly sits in a chair. Recorded sounds of glasses clinking, a baby crying, murmured discussions, and laughter are heard as the dancer massages Sonia’s puppet feet. Seated guests toss their arms and eyes to the ceiling, widen their bodies to form an X, and then rise to dance their personal phrases. The limbo, using Sonia's oxygen tank tube as the stick, is joyously attempted.
The young boy puppet sits in Grandma Sonia’s lap, while the family gathers to take a photo. “Whiskey, whiskey,” they call, as they grin. The giggling puppet boy is tossed from person to person.
To Sonia, the mother asks, “Don’t you want to see him grow up?” In answer, Sonia raises her glass of Veuve Cliquot.
“May the young have a lifetime of happiness!,” “I think you’re brave!," and "I hope you have a nice trip!” exclaim the four teenage puppets twittering and jangling. Occasionally, Sonia crosses the room to smell a vase of roses that sits on the piano.
On screen, a man in glasses chops onions as he describes the preparation for Sonia’s lunch of favorite foods, steak with Chimichurri, potatoes, and salad with avocado. The metal puppet, now seen on screen, studies the cook’s every slice. Puppet Sonia dances the tango. She lunges, blows a kiss, and scolds, “Make sure not to let me fall — it could kill me!” A recording of Sonia’s sister describes Sonia’s renegade spirit — she befriended ‘guys’ in a time when men were either suitors or off-limits. Sonia taught her sisters to “appreciate human freedom and to give love.” In response to this thought, the older and younger Sonia puppets convene to dance. They fly together high in the air.
Sonia’s older brother interjects, “Will you take a break from this crazy idea or we’re all going to jail?!’ The ringing doorbell foretells the end of the festivities, as well as the end of discussion. The doctor has arrived. Sonia sooths the assembled guests by cajoling, “Don’t be afraid.”
When the end of a story is revealed in the beginning, it is essential that the unfolding captivates. For the most part, Lunch with Sonia keeps one’s interest. However, the reductive dialogue is obvious. It seems to have been spoken verbatim by the real-life protagonists, and would have benefited from further shaping. Since the audience grasps the point from the play’s onset, the repetition of scenes adds parallel information to the whole, rather than deepening the story. Admiration for Sonia is boundless.