This past Saturday, Gilcrease Museum hosted the musical theater production Tres Vidas. Through three acts and numerous accompanying songs, the performance celebrated three revolutionary Latin American women. The cast was small, with three musicians making up The Core Ensemble and one very talented actress, Francisca Munoz, playing all three women. The music was a refreshing exploration of Latin American culture. During the acts, Munoz sang Argentine tango songs and Mexican folk ballads in Spanish.
The ensemble complimented her lines with lively and minimal beats. There was an intimacy and an honesty that developed between the stage and the audience that could not have taken place in a production with a larger cast. This intimacy aided Munoz in making each character she played not only come alive, but become a dear friend to the audience.
The show opened with Munoz dressed up as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and pacing around the stage, which sported a table with a few props to make the space into Kahlo’s home. She spoke boldly and unapologetically of her “Diego” and his wandering loyalties, the illness and countless surgeries that led her to paint, her lust for sensuality and passion in life, and her detest for “bureaucrats” and European fashion. She was never still for long, always walking about her “home” with an iconic limp. She played around with the stage, making it her own and using even the ensemble members as props.
After a passionate and lively explanation of her paintings, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”, she began to say goodbye to the audience. Her voice and the live music was far from somber, however, as she shouted “Frida Kahlo will never die!” and wrapped her shawl around her shoulders as she proudly walked off the stage.
Munoz then came back onto the stage as Salvadoran activist Rufina Amaya with a very different demeanor. The music became frantic and ominous and she was yelling the names of her lost family, repeatedly and desperately. She then retraced to the audience the event that had lost her the family she loved and sparked her activism. She spoke almost breathlessly and moved around the stage continuously to paint her story. She crawled under the piano as she described hiding from the soldiers between trees, and the drums beat in the same unrelenting way the boots of the soldiers would sound to Amaya. The music was perhaps used better in this act than the other two. The piano and drums followed Munoz’s movements and her racing heart, while the violin captured the fear, pain, and anger that she felt.
The final act was a moment spent with Argentine poet and groundbreaking feminist Alfonsina Storni on the night of her death. She spoke with a confident but formulated cadence and the music followed suit. Munoz recited Storni’s poetry, which alluded to her taking her own life that very night, as a letter to the son that Storni left behind and an “offering” to the world that consumed it. Through voicing the poetry aloud, she painted an image of losing herself in the waves of the ocean and looking at the sky “one last time”, speculating on what she might feel and think at that moment.
I didn’t notice the music in this act as much as the other two because of the intensity and rhythm Munoz’s voice and Storni’s poetry held. Her voice smoothly carried the audience along the lines of writing just as the waves might have carried her character. The act ended with a fateful and calm goodbye from Storni, wrapping up the night for Munoz as well. Wrapping a scarf around her neck and putting on a hat, she seemed to glide off the stage as the music sang a mournful tune.
Once she was off stage, the ensemble performed a festive postlude that ended the production on a note of celebration of the three women Munoz had introduced and brought to life for the audience. When she and the ensemble took their bows, they received a standing ovation, and it was much deserved.