How to Fill a Wild Bikini
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
by Rosalind Lacy
With a play entitled How To Fill a Wild Bikini, I confess I sat down expecting a bedroom farce. But I came away emotionally moved by something far more profound, thanks to a wonderful actress from Uruguay- Graciela Rodriguez.
Miguel Falabella is a Brazilian playwright who h
as an avid following in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking theater world of Latin America. Translated into Spanish and directed by Omar Varela, I believe this play is a contemporary descendent of the Italian commedia del’arte, a 16th century performing art that made fun of the arrogance of the upper classes. There’s a reference to an imaginary king in Rodriguez’ opening monologue. But instead of dragging us through the gutter or spewing us with profanity, which sadly some of our new playwrights do, Falabella, the Brazilian playwright, gives us familiar people. At one point, I whispered to my husband: “That’s us!”
Society is like a web. So why not let one actress show us how silly we are in trying to fit into today’s world. Trying to conform is like trying to fill a wild bikini.
At first, it is as if we’re about to witness a Greek tragedy. Or one of Brecht’s soliloquies where the actor breaks the illusion and speaks directly to the audience. From the moment of Graciela Rodriguez’ entrance in red silk cape, tight cap, her big eyes devour us as if she’s starving or tortured after an inquisition. We just know this theater experience is going to be different as she looks into our eyes and cries out:
“There’s no pain, I’ve not felt. No humiliation I’ve not experienced. No greater disgrace than the disgrace of my existence. Where can I live with dignity? Where is my dignity?”
Then as if to unnerve us further, Rodriguez tells us she’s forgotten her lines and she offers to give audience members back their money.
The use of the Gunston proscenium arch stage is interesting. The wings and the off stage areas are exposed to create a larger playing area. But a multi-piece orchestra isn’t needed. Dazzling stage sets or blinding strobe lights aren’t necessary. All you need is Rodriguez in this black box of infinite space. She crowds the playing area with multiple characters and dramatic situations that build and spin out of control into manic comedy. All the world’s a stage. First, Rodriquez is whiney-voiced Mabel, who stays at home with a big cream-colored car in her garage, and goes nowhere, while her sister, Magdalena travels the world. Then the fun really begins as the actress keeps adding characters: One of funniest sequences takes place when Graciela becomes schizophrenic. That is, the Inner Mabel tries to tell the Outer Mabel what to do.
But Mabel’s psychoanalyst can’t solve her own problems, let alone her patients’ problems. We meet a can-can dancer from a nightclub, and a telephone operator, who connects us to the weight-lifter, Mike. Then, add in the psychoanalyst’s daughter, Maria, who prefers her mother’s maid to her career woman mother. “I don’t give a damn about your psychological techniques, your long earrings…..your haughty face…..My mother is the maid who nursed me.” So much for generational conflict.
For the ease with which Rodriguez quick-changes into all these multiple-personas, with a change of voice, gesture, or body position, it is understandable why this actress has been honored in Uruguay with numerous awards for her television, radio and theater performances. She’s not well known in the United States. But already she’s won a best acting award in Miami.
Based on this one-woman show, Graciela Rodriguez, for her range of character acting, split-second, fluid transitions, a grace on stage as smooth as the silk of her red cape, deserves more awards for showing us the manic waste of energy of her characters’ lifestyle.
The only flaw I could see in this one-act was that the script could go further in connecting this menagerie of personas to all of humanity. I wanted to see even more. During the richly deserved standing ovation, I wanted to cry out more, more, bring out more characters.
Listening for English translation through headsets is worth the effort with simultaneous translator: Marcella Ferlito. As we adjusted our earphones, Ferlito explained that she has a written script in the booth, but the actress improvises. That makes translating the meaning behind the spontaneity doubly difficult. But I didn’t feel I missed a beat of the rapid flow of Spanish.
By the way, most everyone in the audience was Spanish speaking, it seemed. But for English-only speakers, like me, trust Marcella’s voice in your ear. What happens on stage transcends the language barrier. The artistic director says Teatro De La Luna’s mission is to keep bringing in new plays from contemporary Latin American playwrights, new performers, new ideas.
I came away with more. I came away exhilarated with a renewal of faith in the power of humanity. I felt I had to see this play again to catch more of its depth. It’s playing again for only one more weekend. That’s the pain I felt as I left the theater.
The run for How To Fill A Wild Bikini ends next week,at the Gunston Arts Center-Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington, VA, Thurs., Fri., Sat. 8 p.m., Sat. matinee 3 p.m., October 19-21. Tickets: Thurs. and Sat. matinee, $25. Evening performances, $30. $5 off for seniors and students. 10% discount for 10 or more. Live English dubbing through easy-to-use headsets. Plenty of free parking. Friday, post-show discussion.