By Carlos Pais
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Comedy doesn’t flow easily from Latin American playwrights’ pens, according to Teatro de la Luna’s Artistic Director Mario Marcel, because of the past 25 years of political oppression,. But judging from the world premiere of Argentine playwright Carlos Pais’ satire Love in the Open Air (Amor al Aire Libre) now playing at Gunston Theatre Two, the Comic Muse is alive and functioning as a healing force.
GALA Hispanic Theatre gave us the 1960s warm-up in Griselda Gambaro’s The Walls (Las Paredes) last February. Now Carlos Pais in Love in the Open Air pokes fun at the past and casts a humorous eye on the next generation, the wives and sons of the generals.
A debut Argentine play deserves a superb director like Marcel, who came to this country in 1984. Only an Argentinean fully understands about the “disappeared ones,” the victims of kidnappings, torture and executions from the 1960s to the early 1980s during the Dirty War. This history will never be over for the descendants who, having lost their parents, struggle to understand themselves.
I’m taking off my gloves on this one because I love the play’s theatrical moments and the players’ larger-than-life acting style. Playing her role to the hilt, Walder is simply brilliant as the demon-driven Asuncion, the tyrannical mother, who controls Nor’s every swallow of food, and monitors his comings and goings. She is a control freak who makes strafing attacks on her mousy son. He can do nothing right. “Read between the lines,” she barks when Nor reads the newspaper off-stage.
Walder makes her character, the wife of a deceased Argentine general, human. Here’s a performer who shares an intimacy with her audience that’s a joy to watch, from the moment she enters, humming to the beat of a military march. Everything that happens is a tragic moment for Asuncion. She takes serious lines that could fall dead, and makes them recognizable and funny. “You were a breach birth and you’re still difficult.” The humor gets earthy, to be sure. “Your father never saw me naked, only once when he walked into the bathroom without knocking.”
Meanwhile in the adjoining apartment 9-B, Patricia (Anabel Marcano) suffering from a broken marriage and fallout from a bad relationship, talks to her empty bed. Nor (Peter Pereyra) , the intimidated, beaten-down only son, is shy until he meets Patricia, whom he calls Julia. Making overtures from his balcony, we watch as the mouse becomes a man. Of course, smother mother forbids their contact “in the open air.”
All three actors succeed in making an absurd situation delightful. While the scene cuts and dialogue in Act I seem disjointed, Act II shifts into a fast forward pace with the balcony scenes that have to be a take-off on Romeo and Juliet. Pereyra, who has the athletic prowess of an acrobat, imaginatively portrays the hilarious self-inflicted torture to which a love-struck, sheltered young man will submit. He stretches his body like a rope across the railings between two 9th floor balcony railings. You must see the rest of what he does. Remember Harold Lloyd’s slapstick humor, hanging from the hand of a clock?
When Nor disappears into Julia’s apartment, Asuncion goes ballistic; she imagines her son has been kidnapped by the anti-militarists. “They’ve kidnapped the son of a general,” she cries. (Here history helps: Since 1995, a new generation of activists, the children of the disappeared, have instigated an insurrection against the unpunished torturers of their revolutionary parents. Asuncion’s past guilt seems to be her demon torturer.)
But unlike Romeo and Juliet, misunderstandings are not tragic. Like a prisoner in a cell, Nor, imagining himself the romantic lover from The Count of Monte Cristo, courts Julia by tapping messages through their apartment walls. He eventually sledge hammers his way through, he’s so crazy in love. Patricia is driven not just to the brink of the balcony but into believing she’s rented an apartment in an asylum. The only flaw with Marcano’s performance is the too rapid transition at the end to her falling in love with her suitor, her love-struck, mad torturer.
Impossible to forget is the stage image of two lovers seated on the general’s portrait that forms a bridge between their two balconies, between two generations, two worlds. And Peter Pereyra’s memorable physical performance, legs stretched out like the capital A across two balconies.
Director Marcel, who doubles as set designer, shows us simultaneous action in a split-set, two-apartment design, a large one for the rich and a tiny one for the less fortunate. Lighting designer Ayun Fedorcha creates subtle lighting shifts from soft blues to daylight, warm yellows. The cushy general’s apartment contrasts with the stark simplicity of a lower scale lifestyle.
To ridicule the torturers, to derive humor from the decade of pain, denial and cover-up, are tributes to the power of Carlos Pais, who seems to draw from the Theater of the Grotesque tradition that has the courage to rise above injustice and rage and look with a sense of humor at the fallout from a shameful past.
Non-English speakers are advised to sit in the last two rows for a view of the drop-screen of English sur-titles.
(Running time: 2:00 with 1 intermission.) Don’t miss Teatro De La Luna’s Love in the Open Air (Amor al aire libre), in Spanish with English surtitles, that continues through June 2, 2007 at the Gunston Arts Center-Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington, VA 22206. Thurs., Fri., Sat. 8 p.m.; Sat mat. 3 p.m. Tickets: Thurs., Sat. mat. $25; Students/Seniors $20; Fri., Sat. 8 p.m. $30. Students/Seniors $25. Post-show discussion every Friday. Free parking. Childcare for the Sat. matinee with 24 hr reservation. Info & Reservations: 703-548-3092. Orders on-line, 10% discount. http://www.teatrodelaluna.org/ or [email protected]