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Argentine tragedy doesn’t resonate in ‘Ghost Limb’

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Michele Apriña Leavy and Gabriel Montoya appear in “Ghost Limb” at Brava. (Courtesy Kolmel W Love)

If you’ve ever been to Buenos Aires, as I was recently, you’ve perhaps seen the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo parading in a silent circle every Thursday around the main square in El Centro, in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential office building. Since 1977, this group has been protesting the disappearance of their children and other relatives during the so-called dirty war that took place between 1976 and 1983, when thousands disappeared forever at the hands of the brutal military regime.

Now playwright Marisela Treviño Orta’s “Ghost Limb,” a seven-actor tragedy, focuses on one mother’s plight during that horrific era. It’s in a world premiere at Brava! For Women in the Arts.

Orta’s concept is intriguing: She conjures elements of the Greek myth of Persephone — who was abducted by Hades to become goddess of the underworld, leaving her despairing mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, to search for her — and weaves them into a heroine’s journey in which an Argentine mother, Consuelo, witnesses soldiers kidnapping her defiant artist son, Javier, and risks her own life to try and find him.

It is her own “ghost limb” — her arm, damaged by the soldiers during the scuffle — that, she says, will lead her to him; it vibrates with excruciating pain whenever her faraway son is tortured.

The play moves in and out of realism as Consuelo and her husband, Eugenio, struggle to deal with their new and horrifying reality. The seasons are askew, with snow falling in the middle of summer; their minds are muddled.

The concept is fascinating and the subject is important, but Orta’s script is heavy-handed as she works to integrate myth and recent history, while also blending in the nightmare-like paintings of Goya — Javier is a fan of the late-18th/early 19th-century Spanish artist — and we see dimly lit Goya paintings projected onto tall upstage panels (scenic design by Randy Wong-Westbrooke).

Orta has, commendably, taken on an ambitious project, but it still needs refining.

Unfortunately, this is a limp production, as directed by Mary Guzmán, and does the script a disservice.

It’s distressingly slow, with most of the actors so physically slack, almost listless, that the tension never escalates.

Only Michele Apriña Leavy as the grieving mother, and at times Gabriel Montoya as her conflicted husband, have the acting chops to fulfill their roles, although they too can’t help occasionally succumbing to the overall torpor.

Ghost Limb
Presented by Brava! For Women in the Arts
Where: Brava Theatre, 2781 24th St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes July 23
Tickets: $22
Contact: (415) 641-7657, www.brava.org

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