The comic-drama Lúcido (Lucid) puts you on razor’s edge and lets you yearn for answers to the verbal chaos on stage. In this U.S. premiere, Rafael Spregelburd, Argentina’s most prolific among the latest arsenal of young playwrights, probes the fragility of familial ties through the meaning of dreams. Or have family relationships dissolved into nightmares?
The actors enter from the aisles and climb onstage in hyper-slow-motion as if performing Tai Chi. As directed by Jose Carrasquillo, the characters are exploring Giorgos Tsappas’ dazzling geometric set, consisting of sliding panels of crimson-streaked blocks set against a blue floor and backdrop, which, when illuminated, reveal white bands that could be clouds, wind-whipped water, or cresting waves. Faint sounds of crashing surf or falling water filter in. The colors suggest the polar energies of Feng-Shui, the yin and yang. We are entering Lúcido’s dreamscape that’s disturbingly familiar.
Playwright Spregelburd, also a translator, actor and director, is part of the “theater of disintegration,” a rebellion against the clearly drawn distinctions between protagonist and antagonist, the theatrical fiction of the happy ending, “the canned lies.” This new wave of playwriting is wildly experimental with language. In Lúcido, organ transplants become talking points, like a riff on sacrifice. Phrases are repeated like refrains. The experimentation we see is used to depict a breakdown of verbal communication and relationships within a family. When traditional macho males and domineering mothers disintegrate and fade away, new identities emerge. Transgender dressing (costumes by Ivania Stack) makes the point about the meltdown between male/female roles. This is multi-layered stuff, what dreams are made on, to paraphrase Shakespeare. And I must admit I’ve never seen theater like this. It’s as mesmerizing as an abstract painting.
So suspend all logic and open your mind to the lucid dreams of Lucas (Peter Pereya), which are necessary for him to survive. When he was a child, his sister, Lucretia (Anabel Marcano) sacrificed her kidney and saved his life. Now, in The Pierrade, a bizarre restaurant where the house specialty is meat and vegetables sizzled on top of hot stones, Lucas is enjoying his dream of the ideal family reunion for his 25th birthday celebration with his mother, Tete, (Cynthia Benjamin) and Lucretia. The hovering waiter (Carlos Castillo) has placed more than hot stones at the table as mother and daughter are locked in a high-voltage staring match over whether to order “sparkling” or “flat” water. Lucas resolves the conflict by ordering one sparkling water and two flat. At this point, the perfect peace disintegrates. The women do not start screaming or throwing water at each other, (which we might expect). Lucas tells his mother, the only reason the verbal war ends harmoniously is because they are in his dream. For the first time Lucas reveals he’s in Gestaldt therapy learning how to use “lucid dreaming” to control his life. “This is all my dream….because it didn’t end in a screaming match.”
Something apocalyptic and tragic happened to fractionalize this family but the event is unknown.
As the scenes alternate between public and private spaces, the tension crescendos and the sense of imbalance becomes progressively chaotic. We see parts for the whole. In the privacy of her mother’s home in Ramallo, Argentina, Lucretia and Tete bicker over possessions and the fact they haven’t seen each other in fifteen years. “I wrote to you. Twice. You never answered,” Lucretia says. Tete is sure her daughter has lived in Miami, whereas Lucretia insists she has lived in Ramallo. The two speak dual narratives as if from parallel universes. But through the disconnected dialogue, we learn Tete still treasures Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, referring to the passage about Jo sacrificing her long chestnut hair to unite her family during the American Civil War. Also Tete has a lover, Dario (Carlos Castillo), whom she met in a cybercafé chat room, but even that comes across as a sound bite. These people, although closely connected, are perilously alienated, anchorless, like transients filled with intense hopelessness and anxiety.
Ever since I saw his work in Mario Diament’s Cita a Ciegas (Blind Date) at the GALA in 2007, Jose Carrasquillo has impressed me as a sensitive director who captures nuance by letting words work like structured music. Thanks to his brilliant, well-paced tension-building staging of Lúcido, and a quartet of well-honed, experienced actors, who deliver tight-knit performances of intensity and control, Spregelburd’s slippery reality, extending to even an extraterrestrial UFO encounter, (cleverly recreated by lighting designer Cory Ryan Frank) all climax in a totally surreal experience. Choreographer Leslie Felbain gives the actors pantomimic movement that adds liquidity to the dialogue and helps us see the dreaming. In one sequence, Peter Pereya as Lucas, soars across the stage, as if flying and the other characters follow as if in a delirium.
Making their GALA debut as the surgically-bonded brother and sister, Peter Pereya and Anabel Marcano, well-known in the theater community at Teatro de la Luna, deliver solid performances, while handling with ease the puzzling, at moments maddening, dialogue (rivaling Pinter or Beckett).
Cynthia Benjamin, a veteran GALA performer does a remarkable job of developing Tete, an overbearing, harpy-harsh shrew into a womanly-warm mother, agonized by loss. Benjamin’s outcry of angst near the ending highpoint is intensely moving.
A play as ambiguous and aesthetically gratifying as Lúcido hasn’t come along since GALA’s production of Griselda Gambaro’s 1964 plays, Las Paredes in 2007, a pioneering piece that defined the “theater of resistance,” exposing what happened to the desaparecidos (the disappeared ones) under the armed militaristic regimes of the generals. Those who resisted or spoke out disappeared from the streets. Spregelburd, by contrast, who deliberately avoids “explicit politics,” captures a terrifying sense of dislocation from this new 1990’s generation, supposedly living in a peaceful democracy.
By Rafael Spregelburd
Directed by Jose Carrasquillo
Produced by GALA at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
In Spanish, with English sur-titles.
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