We could all be going through airport security instead of being ushered onto a black box stage where we are about to become part of an art-making process. “Please come in. Leave your belongings on the seats. You can leave your keys, your purses. It’s a secure zone…. Put your cell phones on silent mode, take off your shoes and come into the area where I am…,” actress/playwright Teresa Hernandez says.
From stage center, Hernandez asks us to form a circle around her. Like a physical trainer, she puts us through maneuvers telling us to relax our shoulders, let our arms drop to our sides, take deep breaths, and travel through our minds. By the time she orders us to disconnect eye contact with anyone else, and line up against the upstage wall, I feel totally immersed, but watched and uneasy. That is, until we are told to take our audience seats.
Hernandez is a teller of unsettling stories with long, run-on sentences, and low-level humor. Her focus is on violence in a highly militarized country engaged in wars overseas as well as turf wars over the drug trade at home. She adopts different characters and voices to teach us how to cope with a surreal, modern age in which you’re safer and better off in the army than on the city streets.
Her edgy, satirical dialogue, as Nancy, the dutiful, doting daughter, the care-giver for her shell-shocked, veteran father, is a mix of disjointed memories, sprinkled with unifying refrains. “The devil is on the loose, sister, that’s how it is…amen,” or “Praise be to him!” Her disjointed ramblings in Coraje II are unique in that she shows us how-to-survive. This superb actress, who can change her mood from cynical to stoical with a raised eyebrow, is as courageous as she is experimental as a writer. With a flair for panache, Hernandez does both succinctly and delightfully well.
This versatile actress draws excerpts from playwright Bertolt Brecht’s gloomy poetry, which she speaks and sings directly to us. Also she derives inspiration from his great anti-war epic, Mother Courage, the inspiration for Coraje II/Courage II. A detailed plot is provided in the lobby. Read it to enhance your enjoyment of the performance.
Mother Courage was a camp follower, who made a profit by pulling a wagonload of goods across central Europe during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). She used all her cunning to keep her family together until one-by-one her heroic children were killed off. Although unaware that because of her trade, she contributed to their deaths, Mother Courage continued to haul her wagon and survived a senseless war.
What is striking is the way Hernandez adapts the image of Brecht’s battlefield wagon into a wheelchair for the character of Pa or Paps. She drapes two artificial legs over the back of the chair and pulls it forward from behind, as if the wheelchair is an ox-drawn cart. Then she creates a body puppet by arranging the prosthetic limbs with an empty green jacket and cap, as if Paps is seated in the chair. And a wounded warrior becomes a focal point for her meandering ruminations.
Dramatic tension is enhanced in a spine-tingling highpoint played out against a stabbing trumpet accompaniment. Hernandez, ,her back to us, rotates slowly as if she’s a dangling marionette or hanging corpse; and the shadow of her turning body is cast on the black side curtain.
With awareness of Brecht’s vision of futility, a sharp contrast comes from sketching in some back story about the drug and gang wars in Puerto Rico. According to a New York Times article in 1995, rising gangs and illegal drug-related street crimes in Puerto Rico had escalated into massacres. Based on a 2011 follow-up report, not much has improved. The small island is still a hub for illegal drug trafficking from South America. As a result, security has ballooned into a key priority. And the resulting security industry has expanded into a culture of fear that adds to an aura of paranoia, according to Hernandez, who plays herself as the Actress. It’s when Hernandez adopts the role of a Narrator and headlines a short scene with an absurd, too-long title, about an international armaments exhibition, that the range of assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols are discussed and we get the defense industry’s inadequate solutions.
In this cabaret-style monologue, Hernandez is a video film maker who defies the boundaries of performing disciplines in search of new expressive methods. Her techniques show, quick scene cuts, rather than reliance on verbal narration. In part, this piece is a tribute to Jose Saramago (1922-2010), the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in literature, and author of the imagistic novel “Cain”, his last.
The ultimate irony is that after telling us war stories from her uncles, father, and grandfathers, the character of Nancy gives us the details of her son’s death in an urban street scene. At the cemetery, overcrowded with military burials, there is no room for a kid from the hood. “….he might not be a veteran of the war over there but he was of the one here,” she says bitterly.
Performed in Spanish with English translation (headsets available)
Coraje II / Courage II
Written and interpreted by Teresa Hernandez
Based on excerpts from the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, with quotes adapted from the novel”Cain” by Jose Saramago
Directed by Miguel Rubio
Produced by Taller de Otra Cosa, Inc. & Producciones Teresa, no inc.
Presented by the Teatro de la Luna 14th International Festival of Hispanic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: About an hour with no intermission
Family Show this weekend: The Cat and the Seagull/El Gato y La Gaviota, Sat., Nov. 5th, 11:30 A.M.