‘Simona’s Search’: Learning Who And What We Come From



At a time when the migrant crisis dominates the national debate, “Simona’s Search,” an immigrant story exploring the relationship between a father and daughter and the trauma that binds them, makes its world premiere this week at Hartford Stage.

In “Simona’s Search,” Argentine-American playwright Martín Zimmerman explores the syndrome of “transgenerational trauma”: the passing on of traumatic experiences to subsequent generations that is sometimes prevalent with immigrant families. “Is a parent entitled to privacy about certain things in their lives,” asks Zimmerman. “What is the information that we need to know in order to move confidently through the world and feel that we have a strong sense of ourselves? And what is the information that we don’t necessarily need to know? That’s a really thorny question.”

In the memory play, the character Simona, played by Alejandra Escalante, has grown up watching her father, Papi, played by Al Rodrigo, struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And she’s developing signs of trauma herself.

Papi, a political exile from Latin America, is “so desperate to protect his daughter from the trauma and pain of his past that he tells her nothing about where she comes from,” said Zimmerman in an interview with the 50 Playwrights Project. “He doesn’t teach her Spanish, tell her about her heritage, etc.” But Simona learns “that her father is a deeply damaged man.”

“For Simona, her imagination and memories come into question as she discovers more about her father’s past. Her questions reflect those we often ask ourselves – what is in our nature, and what is due to how we were nurtured?” co-writes in the play’s program, Hartford Stage artistic director Melia Bensussen, who’s directing “Simona’s Search.” “These questions are even more relevant to children of immigrants, who, as foreigners to their parents’ culture and language, may find themselves even more lost in defining their ancestry, identity, and sense of self.”

Alejandra Escalante, Al Rodrigo, and Melia Bensussen in rehearsal for Simona’s Search (Photos by Molly Flanagan)

It’s not difficult to see from the faces of newcomers being dropped off in sanctuary cities across the U.S. from the Texas border that trauma has/is happening. In telling the story of anxiety, emotions of helplessness, insecurity, and anger, Zimmerman draws inspiration from the work of neuroscientist Daniela Schiller, whose studies about the connection between memory and fear were highlighted in the article “Partial Recall: How To Unmake A Memory,” Zimmerman read.

“I feel very strongly about telling Latino stories,” said Rodrigo. “New Latino stories from a new perspective.” Escalante agreed, “I think it is a really exciting new lens to see a Latine family through. It’s not what you would typically expect.”

Actor Christopher Bannow joins Escalante and Rodrigo in the three-member ensemble of “Simona’s Search,” running Jan 18 through Feb 11 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is no Saturday matinee on Jan 20. On Feb 7, there’s a 2 p.m. performance instead of an evening one—$ 20-$100.

For more information, click: hartfordstage.org/simonas-search.

Publisher’s Notes: CT Latino News is proud to partner with Hartford Stage in supporting the state’s Arts and Culture. 

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