“I’ve been dying for a drink,” says Young Woman (Daniela Alvarado). That’s scene one’s startling first line that unreels Venezuelan playwright Enrique Salas’ glib dialogue. When one drink becomes one drink too many, the results can be high hilarity (pun intended) or a desperate search for dignity and recovery.
Relatos Borrachos/Tales Told Under the Influence is a wild satire, replete with fresh material drawn from real life testimonials of ordinary people who enjoy alcoholic beverages. That is, until boozing poses a problem. What makes the enactment by three Venezuelan actors relevant is that the characters are written as allegorical types, with generic names, representing three stages of life. We all can relate. In addition to Mujer Joven/Young Woman, there’s Mujer Adulta/Adult Woman (Caridad Canelon) and Hombre/Man, also known as Everyman (Eduardo Orozco). All three characters are hell-bent to prove to us that the only way to relax and take pleasure in a happy and carefree lifestyle is to party on.
Alcoholic drinks are in style with classy sophisticates, the trendy people. So the characters classify themselves by what they drink.
Mujer Adulta/Adult Woman graduated from being a young chick drinking rum to a grown-up by drinking whisky. In contrast, Mujer Joven/Younger Woman, who defends her drinking because “The whole world goes around drunk,” is more hip. She recommends all the trendy drinks available, like the Cockroach or the Triple Orgasm. Life is short. Live it up. As for the question as to what’s good in life? Man concludes that “…drinking, in fact, is the answer.”
If we don’t like the message, remember the medium is burlesque. But this is no skim-the-surface farce. There are lower depths to explore.
Three allegorical characters each have a story to tell as to why they need to drink. The play is an exploration of their existences through their soliloquies. As the masks fall away, we see reflections of our own lives. Then the characters turn the questions on us in the audience with direct address. Why do we drink? Last night’s lively, full-house audience was totally involved and volunteered spontaneous and wonderfully interactive feedback. Great fun.
Well-known Venezuelan stage, film, and television actress Elba Escobar served as Honorary President of last year’s 13th Teatro de la Luna International Hispanic Theatre Festival. In addition, she came and conquered us as a versatile actress. (in Mi Marido es un Cornudo/My Husband is a Cuckold). This year she is back as a director and elicits nuanced performances.
Overall, Relatos Borrachos may be episodic in structure but Escobar helps the text arc into theatricality. With hard rock music for background, she shapes what could sound like psychotherapy in an AA Twelve-Step Program into intellectually challenging theater, filled with parables from real life.
By alternating soliloquies with back-up quotes from toxicology, psychology and anatomy, we are told how obsessions can destroy lives. Adult Woman tells us, “….alcohol interferes with a the higher mental functions such that visual perception is distorted,….” And silently, we in the audience are feeling and reacting: Why drink when you know it could kill you?
Here’s what happens when a character takes too much enjoyment in having just one more for the road. In a well-modulated, expressive performance, Caridad Canelon, dressed in a loose-fitting, black body suit, portrays a passionate, conflicted Mujer Adulta/Adult Woman who struggles to keep up appearances. In a mildly tipsy state of being, the character confesses her life story of how she joyfully became an alcoholic. Unmarried, she’s a hardcore career woman, chained to her work to prove herself as a telecommunications executive for an international firm. She owns a penthouse on the famous boulevard, La Castellana in Madrid. But she loves to travel. And what’s impressive is the way this sylphlike actress convincingly projects moments of dignity as she progressivly gets more drunk and disoriented. Charlie Chaplin achieved this level of acting in his famous silent film, One A.M. and Ms. Canelon’s performance reminded me of it. Convinced that she lost or someone stole her BlackBerry during her flight from Rome to Paris, she finds the cell phone in her overcoat pocket the next morning and imagines that “those French people” found it for her. A great ah-hah! moment for an intoxicated person.
Then the mask drops and we see another side to her character. In a somewhat terrifying moment, Adult Woman stands forlorn, isolated in a center stage pool of light at the end of her soliloquy. And we feel her desperation and need for recovery.
When Mujer Joven/Young Woman takes her turn, her soliloquy is equally wrenching. Young Woman is every modern young Venezuelan celebrating her Quinceanera, her unique fifteenth birthday that marks the rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood. Toast after toast with her family and friends get her drunk. Draped in a white tunic, Young Woman truly believes she is doing the mature thing that characterizes adulthood.
But Man, as played with reeling physicality and macho charm by Eduardo Orozco, carries the biggest burden as caretaker of his family and has the greatest excuse for drinking to forget about the pressures of modern life. But Man struggles with self-deceit because he feels he’s in control and can always quit drinking. After all, he’s a decent fellow “with style and class.” But when he loses his car in a parking lot and realizes he’s so blotto, he will never find it that night, it’s a funny disaster, directed for light-hearted humor. Orozco is funny by playing his role as broadly and wild as a man who is openly drunk and doesn’t care what others think of him.
The great irony, of course, is that becoming an alcoholic solves nothing. And hard-core reality shatters any illusions of control. The suspense comes in that we know one character is going to go one drink too far and someone is going to get hurt, even killed. There’s a satisfying miracle at the end that may stretch believability, but we are reassured by the transforming force of family stability and healing love. It works emotionally because after all, this is a morality play.
Curtain speeches, spoken as a sort of epilogue by the players work. “Those of you who don’t drink, congratulations.” But “Those who do, drink responsibly thinking of the people back home who love you and need you.” It’s worth the trip across the Potomac to Gunston, Stage 2 to see the lessons acted out so effectively.
Performed in Spanish with English translation
Three performances remain for Relatos Borrachos: Fri and Sat, Nov 11 and 12 at 8pm, Sat, Nov 12 at 3pm at Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA.
Relatos Borrachos/Tales Told Under the Influence
Written by Enrique Salas
Directed by Elba Escobar
Produced by I. E. Productions for Teatro de la Luna’s 14th International Festival of Hispanic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: 90 minutes. In Spanish with headsets available for English translation.