Aristides Vargas, who was born in Argentina but lives in Ecuador, takes us on a jaunty, if not disjointed journey that evokes that hollow, pit-in-the-stomach feeling that comes from arriving in strange, unfamiliar places.
Our Lady of the Clouds (Nuestra Senora de las Nubes) reminds us that no matter where we travel or relocate, we are exiles carrying the same emotional baggage. Physically we may be in a new place, but in our minds we’re in the past. We may be unsure of where we are; but we never forget where we were.
Fellow travelers through their life journeys, Bruna (Viena Gonzalez) and Oscar (Claudio Rivera) meet in a nondiscript location, and discover they are from the same town, Our Lady of the Clouds, but neither recognizes the other. Both are hefting huge suitcases, decorated with black and white feathers on one side, and shuttered windows on the other. The images on these prominent props are well-chosen.
The two gifted Dominican Republic actors, Gonzalez and Rivera, play their scenes with split-second timing as if they’re used to completing sentences for each other. At moments, they elevate us with their supercharged, volcanic performances. “Why were you exiled from your country?” Rivera as Oscar asks. The question echoes throughout this hour and a half one-act and to answer it, Vargas, the playwright, presents scenes randomly; as if we’re thrown into a game of hopscotch, and we jump through a series of vaudevillian skits. Along the way, we watch Gonzalez and Rivera go through fast-paced stand-up routines, dressed in a variety of costumes and wigs, to project the answers through a host of different characters.
Director Claudio Rivera guides us through the playwright’s richly-layered world of memory and magical realism. The punch lines are meant to hit us with needling humor. An example: Viena Rodriguez, as Bruna dressed in a stunning white wedding dress, (costumes by Luis Hidalgo) is hypnotic and fierce as the rebellious bride, who vehemently declares she will not consent to her arranged marriage but will marry her father instead because he’s the only man who has any real interest in her.
But remember this is magical realism that is too real—the reality of political persecutions from a world of geopolitics that took place in the past. In one skit when Bruna asks Oscar why they exiled him, he tells her it was the neighbors who killed his identity with their silence; their shunning. One chilling line says it all: “They didn’t know they were assassins but when I was carried off, they were silent. They closed their blinds,” Oscar says. Meanwhile, a violinist, (Violetta Lockhart) stationed on the stage apron plays Schubert’s Ave Maria, adding poignancy to the scene transition.
In another scene, we learn from Oscar that both he and Bruna are from the same country. “I think I’ve seen your face on the other side.”, another repeated refrain suggesting that the town of Our Lady of the Clouds is ethereal, in the great beyond. Are we witnessing an extra-terrestrial world of those who have crossed over into a life beyond death? Not quite. If this is a place beyond life, then death is allegorical. There’s political corruption in governments everywhere, we are told. “The corrupt denounce the corrupt because they know what they’re talking about.” Gonzalez, as Bruna, says acerbically.
Cut to another scene: Rivera, the actor, cross-dressed as an odd, gray-wigged woman, wearing thimbles on each finger and thick, horn-rimmed glasses, sits like a grotesque matriarch or a grim-reaper, recounting her genealogy—above all, family name is all. The politicians who win elections trace their political importance to familial connections. This old hag is obsessed with name origins, worship of European ancestry, the buried bigotry that surfaces, such as the strained relations between Dominicans and Haitians who share the same geographic island. Meanwhile, Gonzalez, dressed in a white strait jacket and cap, rolls on the floor laughing hysterically. She’s tangled in a white cord, as if caught in a spider web. Gonzalaz can only act moronic in a society with insane values, driven by avarice. It’s the only behavior that makes sense. How else can a woman escape the outrageous injustices that stem from racial snobbery, class division, and exploitation of the lower classes? Land disputes with native Indians and forced migrations are nothing. All Latin American countries share more or less the same burdens: regulations that retard growth, restrictions of women’s rights and freedoms. All are targets for satire.
The ultimate irony arrives in a climactic scene where both travelers realize that they have been estranged from the culture of their birth for 20 years. Trapped by Time and memories, Bruna and Oscar return to a town that won’t remember them; nor will they remember the town. That’s why they need to “reinvent it each time we remember it.” English translation in headphones are by Gae Schmitt and Ed Johnson.
Aristides Vargas is the Latin American playwright who transports us out of our personal isolation into the commonality of what it means not just to be an immigrant in exile but also to be human.
Teatro de la Luna’s 12th International Festival of Hispanic Theatre continues for two more weekends:
Next weekend, from Venezuela, Troupe Ff Theatrical Productions, Inc. presents Dr. Sex (Dra. Sexo) by Anibal Grunn and Flor Nunez from a free adaptation of Let’s Have Sex in Peace (Tengamos el Sexo en Paz), Nov. 12, 13, 8 p.m.; Nov. 14, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Another production from Argentina, this one from Cordoba closes the festival when Grupo Kill Bob presents the musical comedy, The Eggshell (La Cascara del Huevo), by Daniela Trakal and Matias Ibarra, Nov. 19, 20, 8 p.m.; Nov. 21, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Our Lady of the Clouds (Nuestra Senora de las Nubes)
By playwright Aristides Vargas
Directed by Claudio Rivera
Produced by Teatro Guloya, Dominican Republic
For Teatro de la Luna’s 12th International Festival of Hispanic Theatre
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy