Veronica (Kari Ginsburg), looking frightened and vulnerable, opens the door to her home and walks inside. Before she can close it, a mysterious, mustachioed stranger (Christopher Henley), dressed in black and wearing an enormous handgun, slips in behind her. He demands that she tell him about Peter Brown, someone she immediately claims not to know.
They scream at each other. Suddenly, the phone rings. It is Veronica’s boss, who threatens to fire her for unspecified reasons unless she performs some unspecified acts. The mysterious stranger, smirking, says “don’t you want me to fix something for you?” and leaves. Veronica calls her best friend, Cynthia (Kathleen Akerley) to tell her about these horrifying maladventures, but Cynthia, who is attempting to subdue her unruly kids, shows no interest. The next day, Veronica discovers that her boss has been killed.
That’s when it gets weird. Mario (Gabriel Swee), the new boss, has the hots for Veronica. So does the building’s janitor (Tel Monks). Veronica, who to this point is a professed virgin, seems suddenly filled with lust. She smears her face with lipstick and walks around in various states of undress. Silent videos –of beer commercials played backward and the like – appear periodically on the blinds. The mysterious stranger reappears, alternately pledging to protect her and calling her a whore. Veronica’s dead mother (Ellie Nicoll), who may have been a victim of torture and murder, also reappears. Rape and gunfire ensue. Some characters are murdered, some characters are married, and some characters experience both. We come to hear Peter Brown accused of dope dealing, of being a communist, of white slavery. In the end we learn who he really is, though what it means is beyond my powers of understanding.
I must tell you that this isn’t my cup of tea. It may be yours, though, especially if you have a deep understanding of events during the reign of Chilean generalissimo Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, which the story represents by allegory. After all, the Premio del Circulo de Criticos declared Every Young Woman’s Desire to be Best Play of 1987, which tells you two things: that it received critical acclaim, and that playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra, who had it produced while Pinochet was still in power, is a man of great courage.
Director Jay Hardee, in his excellent program notes, suggests that after a period of violent oppression, Pinochet established his dictatorship by providing goods and services. He quotes the American journalist Tina Rosenberg: “a shrewd dictator does not crush everyone. How much better simply to seduce: provide people with quiet streets, imported autos, or the luxury of having someone else do their thinking for them, in exchange for their silence and subservience.” But prosperity is the objective of every government, good or bad, and in fact Chile achieved extraordinary prosperity during the Pinochet regime, in part through the application of University of Chicago economic theories which probably could not have been implemented in a democracy.
The argument that people would gladly give up their freedom in exchange for quiet streets and imported autos is a provocative one, and I would have been glad to see a play based on this concept. Every Young Woman’s Desire, however, isn’t it. Assuming that the mysterious stranger represents Pinochet and Veronica represents all of Chile, the play seems to assert that Pinochet seduced Chile through violence. The mysterious stranger spends much of the play screaming at Veronica, beating her, and calling her a whore. Veronica, past the opening few scenes, seems numb, or stoned, with fear. Far from living on a quiet street or driving an imported auto, she receives blows and curses throughout. She does obtain a bundle of packaged gifts – scarves, shoes and the like – but it is unclear whether they come from Mario, “Peter Brown” or the mysterious stranger. Her sudden attraction to the mysterious stranger seems genuine but entirely unmotivated.
It isn’t the only unmotivated part of the play. Mario, who as Veronica’s co-worker was indifferent to her, suddenly finds her desirable after he becomes the boss. (Hardee does not aid clarity by double-casting Swee as the mysterious stranger’s assistant during a beating which he administers to Veronica). The janitor, hitherto a pleasant and respectful servitor, becomes a sexual predator upon delivering Veronica’s gifts. And the mysterious stranger, far from being a shrewd dictator, appears to be a hypermanic paranoiac, breaking furniture, climbing through windows, and – um – killing people.
Toward the end of the play, there is a touching dialogue between Cynthia and Veronica. Veronica is at this point a shell of herself, mindlessly parroting the crazy assertions which the mysterious stranger has imposed on her. Cynthia, near tears, is trying to call Veronica back to herself. I regret to report that this was the only part of the play I really believed – the only part where I thought I was watching real people, doing things I understood. The rest of the play was loud, intense, dramatic – but not convincing.
A play written and performed under an oppressive regime necessarily muffles its oars and hides its meaning to the degree necessary to fool the censors while still informing the cognoscenti. But Pinochet has been out of power for twenty years, and dead for three. Chile is free (and still prosperous) and the play is now being presented in a country where anything can be said, and is. (The Washington Shakespeare Company’s production is the play’s English-language premiere). In this context, de la Parra can make his point openly and clearly, and I hope that some day he will.
Every Young Woman’s Desire
By Marco Antonio de la Parra
Translated by Charles Phillip Thomas
Directed by Jay Hardee
Produced by Washington Shakespeare Company
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Every Young Woman’s Desire runs thru June 20, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
EVERY YOUNG WOMAN’S DESIRE