When you consider that Facebook is banned in some communist countries today, Chumbale, an area premiere, is wickedly funny, and extraordinarily brave. Written in 1971 during military rule when it was extremely dangerous, even life-threatening to speak out openly, Argentine playwright Oscar Viale vents astonishing resistance to top-down rule that annihilates privacy.
Chumbale comes across as a black comedy that could be ripe fodder for filmmaker/animator Terry Gilliam, of “Monty Python” fame, who made Brazil about an individual who can’t quite conform. How does a free-thinking intellectual guy survive in a dictatorial household? The title, with accent on the first syllable, translates as “Hound me! Keep on hounding me!” based on a dog attack command used only in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Every Love Bird Needs a Nest was tacked on as a sub-title by Teatro de la Luna to universalize the need for personal refuge from invasion and respect for the individual.
Introduced by a piped-in recording of bandoneon (or concertina) Argentine tango music, Chumbale starts deceptively calm. Then like a testament to director Mario Marcel’s masterful pacing, act one whiplashes like a roller coaster with emotional crescendos and diminuendos. With beat-the-clock rapidity, a Teatro de la Luna ensemble flies over the top with expressive acting, capable of making you laugh out loud, if not chuckle, at the uprisings against authority. The style is allegorical, in sync with the genre of Theatre of the Grotesque or Violence Theatre, consistent with Brechtian alienation that challenges us to think. So it helps to know the abstract ideas behind the ordinary characters.
Everything starts out naturalistically in drab reality. Trapped in a declining economy, Enzo, the candid idealist, (Alex Alburqueque), and Mecha, his disillusioned young wife, (Marcela Ferlito Walder), are forced by necessity to nest in cramped, domestic quarters with Mecha’s parents, the father, Roque, who represents dictatorial authority, (newcomer-to-the-stage Livio Danna), and Mercedes, the officious mother (Leyre Varela). Mecha’s brother Quique, (Gerald Montoya) is a policeman representing thoughtless force, who after his involvement in a gang rape of a “black girl” fears retaliation. Confined to a bedroom that once belonged to Quique, who now sleeps in the hallway, Enzo is seized with contradictory ideas.
“Property does not exist….The things in this world belong to everybody,” and that includes the air, the sun and sky; just as human individuals cannot own private property or space in a house, Enzo postulates, even though his father-in-law calls him a communist. At the same time, Enzo is a paradox in that he defends his personal space by insisting that every family member knock on the bedroom door before entering; nevertheless, his wife’s mother barges in when his pants are down. It soon becomes clear that the family members, who roam back and forth between the two-roomed set (designed by Mario Marcel) have no respect for boundaries. Ultimately, peaceful co-existence explodes into bullying and screaming matches.
But the deeper territorial troubles really began earlier when Enzo, who lost 20 jobs in two years and sells coffee in the streets to make a living, impulsively bought a can of paint on sale with plans to repaint the bedroom, an act that Roque, the father who owns the house and fears a take-over, violently opposes. To paint or not to paint throughout the play becomes an existentialist big question about freedom and how to assert individuality under authoritarian rule.
Thanks to Alburqueque’s impassioned, completely convincing performance, Act I just whizzes by and we continue to feel sympathy for Enzo’s torturous moments of entrapment in Act II when an absurd situation grows grotesque and we wonder about the character’s sanity. Strong support from the other actors, like Marcela Ferlito Walder, who projects Mecha as more of a mediator than a trouble maker, helps. Walder and Alburqueque have a tug of war through a closed door, a comic routine that bogs the action down a bit, the way the script is written; but inventive use of props and pillows works well on the split-wall-set, fit for a Feydeau farce, to heighten the comic divide in the family.
Watch for Mecha’s divorced sister, Aida, (Karin Tovar Cardenas) the saucy dissident, who ultimately shows respect for Enzo’s space by knocking—a moving moment. As Aida, the outspoken rebel who incites insurrection by egging on Enzo to paint the room on the sly, Cardenas delivers a climactic, end-of-scene outburst that suggests that top-down, brute force isn’t effective. Aida suggests defiantly that starting from the ground up, one individual can make a difference to benefit the entire family.. But ultimately her rebellion fizzles and leads to a surprisingly dark statement about what totalitarian rule does to individualism.
In Spanish with English surtitles
Chumbale, Every Love Bird Needs a Nest (El Casado Casa Quiere)
By Argentine playwright Oscar Viale
Directed by Mario Marcel
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Chumbale closes March 13, 2010.
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