Ever since the Europeans first occupied Argentina in 1516 it has been a country in turmoil, laden with multiple military coups and revolutions. The most infamous era began with the death of Juan Domingo Peron in 1974 and lasted until the election in 1983 of the democratic President Raul Alfonsin.
Turmoil turned to crisis, which turned to horror as the government, controlled by "The Generals," resulted in the sacrifice of human rights and human lives in the name of "order." The government relied on emergency decrees, including special executive authority to contain violence by allowing the state to imprison people indefinitely without charging them. Speaking out against the government could result in death.
It is during these years that playwright Adina Ruskin sets her play I Hear (in Spanish Oigo) playing at the John Houseman Theatre Studio thru April 8. "A play with music," I Hear is musical to many different ears, performed both in English (with a dash of Spanish) and in sign language.
In the play, at the height of the military regime, a young, deaf songwriter named Isabella (Jackie Roth, who does all the signing) decides she will no longer sit quietly and watch the atrocities ravish her country. Despite the pleading of her inner-voice (literally played by Gerard Edery, who also composed and performed all the music), Isabella writes a controversial song that speaks out against her government, and it is this defiance that gets her shot. All of this occurs in the play's first ten minutes.
The rest of the play is a reflection on Isabella's life, a survey of victims of the same intolerance that Isabella suffered, and a history of the creation of "The Mothers & Grandmothers of The Plaza de Mayo", a group of women crusading to find the children kidnapped from women who were pregnant when they were imprisoned. If it sounds intense, it is. "It's not easy to be heroes," says Ruskin of the Mothers, "but if we stand to together we don't have to be."