Five madcap players from Spain fire up wholesome, exciting ‘theatre with a capital T,’ for this weekend’s addition to The Moon’s Embrace, Teatro de la Luna’s newest festival. The tight-knit troupe from the Factoria Teatro company deliver dialogue so rapid-fire, switch characters, scenes and props with such split-second ease, they take your breath away.
Family Under Construction (Familia En Construccion) is a deeply funny satire performed with such flamboyance and fun, it has a true improvisational feel. The company and its take on ‘family’ will get under your skin and into your head.
At the opening, actors Ivan Ugalde, Inigo Asiain, Salvador Sanz, Victoria Teijeiro, and Montse Diez don head scarves, beards and robes for the Nativity scene in a riotous take-off on the Holy Family. We recognize Joseph, Mary, a bleating ox, a braying donkey, and Jesus, displayed in a drawing, held by an actor, as an infant in the creche. The scene is shattered when Jesus rebels and leaves home to fulfill “…my destiny.” The actor playing Joseph yells, “This isn’t working!” So the players decide to get real and start again. This time with scenes taken from real families, possibly, their own families, since this script originated improvisationally. They play unnamed archetypes: Mother, Father, Sons 1 and 2, Daughter-in-law and Grandmother.
Rather than the me-first attitudes in America, in Spain, it’s family first over individuality. Loyalty is all. If you need help, you go to your family. Each family member sacrifices for the good of all. Or at least, that’s the ideal.
But just exactly what is a family? And how do we define it? Must we be blood-related? Or can we trade in parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, and in-laws for others?
To get at the answer, we are presented with a smorgasbord of random scenes, as equally tantalizing and absurd as the opening.And what wonderful absurdity it is.
Here’s just one moment at Grandmother’s Funeral Wake. Saturated with warm, rosy light and set to piped-in flamenco guitar music, the Mother is keeping vigil by the coffin, and Grandmother gripes from beyond death, chiding the relatives who don’t show proper respect. After all, “….a person’s mother doesn’t die every day,” she says. Grandmother has lived a long life and has a lot of resentments. Her grievances build to such a peak of absurdity that the other actors stop the scene. “This is taking on some tinges of a one-act farce…..,” says one of the players.
The farcical elements are mixed with scenes of genuine pathos. The family custom of setting the table and eating dinner together becomes a routine. When it’s repeated, it’s rerun in slow motion, as if the family members have run out of battery-power, enthusiasm, and energy. The routine is grinding away at the relationships. When Father dances with Mother, he recalls, how they lost their romance “….in the daily routine.”
“The Return of the Daughter,” is a touching soliloquy. After years of being away, a daughter returns to tell her mother and father her feelings of deep gratitude for their love and protection.
These are only a few appetizers. The full meal is well worth going for. The wedding ceremony at the end tops off the evening and is spectacular. All the edgy, high-velocity theatrics have built to the moment when the Daughter-Pastor asks “Why do I need a family?” When she arrives at the answer, and ‘family’ becomes broadened to include all loved ones, a moment of eloquence is reached.
The mock-curtain call where the players do a send-up of posing for group pictures caps off the fun. The audience gladly joins in with them singing Handel’s familiar Hallelujah Chorus as we walk out joyously celebrating family and life.
Performed in Spanish with English sur-titles overhead
Three more performances remaining for Family Under Construction: Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday at 3pm. At Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA.
Details and tickets here.
Familia en Construccion (Family Under Construction)
By Gonzala Martin Sherman
Produced by Factoria Teatro from Spain and Teatro de la Luna as part of “The Moon’s Embrace,” (“El Abrazo Lunar”)
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: 1 hours, 15 minutes