Except for a few markers to denote the desert setting, the stage is entirely empty, still as death. Suddenly, a coyote call breaks the silence. Two figures in dusty brown jackets appear, the coyotes themselves (Liam Callister and David Silavin), who perform a rather sinister rendition of the ballad “El Corrido de June Robles,” taunting the audience. An old woman joins them, her voice heavy with decades of suffering. She is the aged June Robles, now called “Bunny” (Maria Calderazzo), and she is reliving the darkest days of her childhood, in an attempt to right past wrongs.
Octavio Solis' play, “June in a Box,” is a retelling of the 1934 incident in Tucson, Arizona, in which a 6-year-old girl named June Robles was abducted and held for ransom, for 19 days, in a box, underground, and all alone. But in the play, young June (Haley Leitman) is not alone. In a strange and wonderful distortion of time, “Bunny,” her aged counterpart, is there with her, guiding her, comforting her and attempting to hasten her escape. But regardless of how she struggles and strives, June's father (Frank Moreno) and grandfather (Martin Morales) do not heed her advice, instead making the same mistakes they did the first time, “over and over.” As the coyotes, ever-present symbols of the trauma that June/Bunny carries with her through life, say, “you can't change the past.”
The play, in the end, is not about changing the past but coping with the present and preparing for the future. Slowly, it is revealed why Bunny is reliving the 19 days: she is about to enter a new “box,” one she will never escape. She has fought so long against the demons, and with the knowledge of her family's inadequacies. How can she just accept death?
Saint Mary's Performing Arts Department, working closely with Solis himself, has created a poignant and nuanced production of a complex play. With energetic performances, and a set that was impressive. (How does one build a “ground,” so that one may put a box, with an actor inside it, underground? Let's just say this play pulls it off, and with great spectacle) What I appreciated the most is how balanced the production is. The themes of trauma, death and growing up are paired with rousing musical numbers and a good dose of comic relief. I won't spoil the end, but lets just say that it's quite a “show.”
By Indrani Sengupta
“My Works Are Very Personal,” Playwright Tells Crowd Before Show
“My first poem was called “Ode to a Prairie Dog.” And I'd never even seen a prairie dog!” Octavio Solis joked as he addressed a group that had gathered for a pre-show talk on Nov. 11,
A lack of concrete experience didn't stop him when he was a child, and it doesn't stop him today. Solis went on to describe how “June” was inspired by “El Corrido de June Robles,” a ballad written about the 1934 incident. Solis stumbled across the corrido one day, and his interest was sparked, but no manner of research would find him the real June Robles. She had disappeared.
The June/Bunny in Solis' play, then, is a fictional account, born of “internal research,” his “idea of her,” as he told his listeners. And it is richer for that fact, having been infused with Solis' imagination, a vital part of himself:
“My works are very personal. There's a lot of me out there,” he said.
Solis went on to describe his philosophy on writing, saying that he doesn’t follow a formula, feeling that it is an “alchemical process” that begins with an “empty vessel” and creates something so much more. Those who see the play and learn of its conception from one nine-stanza song, will likely agree that there is something magical about Solis' process.
By Indrani Sengupta