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The Performance Network opens its season with a difficult perspective on political conflict, the children compelled to fight for their countries, and the parents who think they know better. However, the David Wolber–directed Sonia Flew doesn't feel like propaganda; instead, it presents two beautifully sad family portraits that make the political very personal indeed.

Playwright Melinda Lopez's intriguing structure presents challenges that pay off handsomely in this production. The first act introduces a contemporary family preparing to celebrate the holidays just months after 9/11. Son Zak (Russ Schwartz) confidently defends his revelation that he is leaving college to enlist in the military, which upsets no one more than his mother, Sonia (Milica Govich). Although its members are at odds, this family certainly feels like a cohesive unit, and the ensuing dinner-table battle sets the stakes high. Zak alludes to Sonia's own origins in Cuba and the circumstances of her departure, which she swears she will never talk about — until the second act, set in 1961 Havana, with the same cast switching roles to depict the flight of young Sonia (Christina L. Flynn), part of a real movement known as Operation Pedro Pan.

As the elder Sonia, Govich is helplessly aware of her loss of control; she's paired especially well with Jon Bennett as Daniel, the husband who struggles to remain supportive in light of the palpable distance between them. There's also a fascinating affinity between Sonia and her father-in-law, Sam (Will David Young), whose own similar past — as a Jew who fled Europe in advance of World War II — informed quite opposing values about patriotism and service. Schwartz and Flynn (here as Sonia's daughter, Jen) nail the gentle contention of teen siblings and an easy cadence that feed into the rapid momentum of the first-act climax. A major strength of the show is that no one character or opinion is portrayed as "right"; the characters react emotionally and honestly, in keeping with their relationships, rather than simply personifying an ethos.

The transformation from 2001 Minnesota to 1961 Cuba is thorough in every respect: Daniel C. Walker's lighting, initially restrained and expertly highlighting subtle counterpoints from opposite ends of the stage, gives way to a visible pummeling of Caribbean heat, turning Monika Essen's adaptable yellow set ablaze. Designer Mary Copehnagen trades cozy cold-weather wear for clothes as brightly patterned as they are cool. However, instead of giving the impression of two separate one-act plays, the parallels that begin to emerge, and a few cross-over monologues, effectively cement this as a single story. Flynn is cheekily precocious as fifteen-year-old Sonia, swept up in youthful excitement about Castro's still-new regime. Her parents (Young and a steely Sarab Kamoo) are more realistically wary, but terrified to be perceived as objectors; together with family friend Marta (Govich), Kamoo's Pilar takes steps to ensure Sonia's safety, choosing temporary escape over feared conscription. Although their separation is only expected to last one year, Wolber directs Sonia's parting as though all parties realize its finality, an exceptionally dramatic choice that, while anachronistic, perhaps gives the story arc what it needs.

Just a few weak points stick out over the course of the play. Lopez ties the two acts together in a conclusion intended for maximum tear-jerking, a moment of healing that feels simultaneously well-earned and manipulative. Moreover, the details of the first-act fight about abandoning Zak's ivy-league education, and talk of getting him out of his commitment to serve, occasionally struck this viewer as coming from an obnoxious place of exceptional privilege. Still, the overall strength of the script wins the day, and the fine casting and dual performances of this superior production evade soap-boxing by focusing on the genuine family anguish that political turmoil brings.


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