This one-act psychological thriller starts up with a video confession from an on-stage projector. What is chilling is the matter-of-fact way Ramon (Antonio Delli), in a full-faced close-up, tells us in a hushed voice, how he killed an old woman. “….I feel no remorse, not the slightest feeling of guilt. Nothing…..I strangled her…..She was old and couldn’t defend herself.”
Immediately, we are lured into an existentialist world, reminiscent of French novelist/playwright Albert Camus’ The Stranger (L’Etranger), whose protagonist irrationally kills and confesses to feeling no personal responsibility for any actions in his life. By contrast, in Killing Words, just what does Ramon intend to do with the ex-wife, whom he claims to have once madly loved? He addresses her with his poetry spoken like a true schizophrenic: “Cruel love, listen,/for you, my body trembles,/…You and I play together/in forgotten fields,/you and I hear voices/that nobody hears anymore…..”
Venezuelan Elba Escobar is well-known to Teatro de la Luna audiences from former festivals. In 2010, Escobar performed her one-woman hit, My Husband is a Cuckold/Mi Marido es un Cornudo. And last year, in 2011, she directed Relatos Borrachos/Tales Told Under the Influence, about people who drink too much.
This year, in the 15th International Festival of Hispanic Theater, Escobar, who is versatility incarnate, returns with a deeper dive into addictive behavior, with Spanish playwright, Jordi Galceran’s hypnotic Killing Words, (made into a 2003 European award-winning film).
Killing Words delves into the mind of a 37-year-old psychopath, Ramon, who is obsessed with his ex-wife, Laura, a nurse (Noheli Arteaga). The way we are introduced to Laura on-stage is terrifying. Accompanied by the eerie, white-noise-sound-effects of electronic screeches, clanking steel doors and jangling keys (Soundtrack and music by Nacho Huett), Laura, dressed in a stark-white uniform, is wheeled in immobilized, bound and gagged to a swivel office chair. Ramon has imprisoned her in a nondescript basement with promises of release and redemption. If she can cure him of his obsession with killing, he will free her.
Overall, this intense, theatrical game-plan is well-worth seeing for the superb, tour-de-force acting by Antonio Delli as Ramon, the Psychopath, and Noheli Arteaga as Laura, the Nurse.
Delli stalks the stage like a repressed tiger clothed in baggy-trousers, totally convincing as the charming psychopath, who throughout the play wipes his hands with a sanitizing lotion, as if cleansing himself of all responsibility. Is he really a serial killer? How many people did he really kill? Just because he confesses to one doesn’t mean he will kill more.
On one level he is a flamboyant, innocuous clown, masterminding a dubious cat-and-mouse game, called “Chained Words,” a literal translation of the Spanish title, Palabras (words) and Encadenadas (chained), that derives from encadenar-to chain. Here’s the game set-up: Ramon says a word. Then Laura must think up a word with a first syllable that rhymes with the last syllable of that word. The verbal fencing continues until someone fails.
Closes November 3 and 10, 2012
Teatro de la Luna at
Gunston Arts Center II
2700 South Lang St
1 hour, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Details and tickets
On another level, all fun and games evaporate with the realization that Ramon is gleefully impervious to Laura’s suffering. If Ramon wins, he gets to scoop out one or both of her eyes. So why does the nurse play? She has no choice if she wants her freedom. Character revelations follow with non-stop surprises.
Arteaga is a super-skilled actress with the ability to project the paradox that Laura is scared out of her skull, disgusted by her ex-husband and magnetically attracted to him. Throughout it is as if a high-tension wire exists between Delli and Arteaga. Both actors succeed in projecting characters, hooked on a higher stakes game, they enjoy playing. Does Laura, the nurse, bear some responsibility for what happens? She lied in court to convince the judge that Ramon is a pervert and “degenerate monster.” Her lawyer advised it. Does getting out of a failed marriage justify telling lies? Or could it be possible that Laura is telling the truth? The question lingers.
As Delli plays Ramon, the psychopath comes across as all rhetoric; no accomplishments. Words are impotent unless backed by actions. He threatens Laura that he is going to gouge out one of her eyes if she loses. Yet when she loses the first round, Ramon reneges and is willing to play a “rematch.” She wins and is in charge. But will she prevail? So much animosity whiplashes between the lovers. Yet for one tantalizing moment, we truly believe there is hope for reconciliation. We want a happy Hollywood ending.
The style of Killing Words is surreal, at moments as graphic as a Frida Kahlo painting, without explicit stage set– just the power of words. Killing Words is gripping with edgy suspense. You never quite know what to expect. Anything can happen. And true to Greek rules for drama, the audience is removed from the explosive violence that is kept off-stage.
Performed in Spanish with English translation by Christine Stoddard
Recommended for adult audiences only
Killing Words/Palabras Encadenadas . Written by Jordi Galceran with Noheli Arteaga and Antonio Delli . Directed by Elba Escobar . Produced by I. E. Productions C.A. as part of From Caracas, Venezuela, for the Teatro de la Luna’s 14th International Festival of Hispanic Theater . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy