How many does it take to tango? In typical Fringe fashion, Despertar (Spanish for “awakening”) attempts to forge new kinds of theatre by merging performance art, dance, and scripted play. The piece follows two ill-fated couples, re-enacting their dream-like relationships in one extended 50-minute tango over six short scenes.
The central drama follows the relationship between Arielle (a show-supporting Mikhel Alexandra Wirtanen) and Oz (Eric Kruger), who have now both moved-on to same-sex relationships with June (Elizabeth Hansen) and Avi (Connor J. Hogan), respectively.
The new couples fight to maintain their relationships while Arielle and Oz secretly revisit theirs, begging each couple to question whether the problems they experience are internal, or borne from the not-quite-extinguished romance between the two lead dancers. Through the metaphor of tango, we see each couple explore the often blurred boundary between love and hate, passion and aggression, dream and dance. The symbolism is rich, and at times it shines.
Though Despertar bristles with potential, it is far from a polished piece. Written and directed by Jon Jon Johnson, we see the strength that comes from a single artist’s choices, and the limitations of a work that might have benefited from some additional collaboration. This play is unquestionably Johnson’s experiment and his brain-child, and could have gone further to let its viewers in. It attempts to be Art with an A, though lacks the precision to get there.
The show suffers as well from being staged entirely as dance. The actors, though working admirably through a thickly-choreographed show, lack the experience necessary to make this piece work. For this show to adequately explore the relationship tragedy through the metaphor of tango, it would have benefited greatly from four actors trained in tango.
The dance was passionate, but too often clumsy and a little distracting. There were other logistical issues in which more collaborative voices would have been appreciated, such as the deeply-poetic dialogue often getting drowned out by the dark music that ran the length of the show. The audience is left with a sample of something that could have been extraordinary. And to be fair, there were a few redeeming moments where it was — moments where plot, poetry, and partnering align to illuminate the piece’s full potential.
As Johnson writes in his director’s note, “…I make no apologies. As has come to be the mantra of the show, I say to you: ‘Deal with it.'”
Though a rich concept that could have been great, Despertar makes the unjustified request that the audience pull itself up to the show’s level. Salvaged by its novel concept and heroic cast, this play scrapes three out of five stars. It may be worth a watch, for its few gasp-worthy moments. Though in the end it’s Johnson’s dance — and feels a bit like a tango for one.
Despertar has 5 shows, ending July 28, 2012, at The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Chase rates this 3 out of a possible 5.