In 2007, I nicknamed Argentine Liliana Pécora the Sarah Bernhardt of comic actresses for her acting in Women of 50 in Teatro de la Luna’s 10th International Hispanic Theater Festival. Pécora has come back for the 16th International Hispanic Theater Festival. And I’m happy to report that Pécora in Women of 60 has gotten even better; not older.
Liliana Pécora is back with another camp-satire stage show, full of grotesque caricatures, a menagerie of women, ranging from age 25-85. In Women of 60, Pécora’s lead character, Viviana is filled with anxiety attacks about retirement and growing old. The battle for self-esteem has transformed into the battle of the sagging skin and failing bodily functions. “I used to have crow’s feet, but now they look like rigging lines from the Frigate Sarmiento.” The Sarmiento to Argentina is what the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Iron Sides, is to the United States of America.
But what bothers Viviana the most, she tells us, is the “retirement” label. Retirement gets bad press, she complains. It’s like being slapped with the label “old” when inside Viviana still feels as if she’s 30. “They can retire me, but they can’t kill my dreams, I’m the boss of my life,” Viviana cries, in mock-heroic indignation. But, once retired, is she really the boss?
Through voice-overs, we hear Candela, her granddaughter, and her daughter, Luciana. And Viviana feels jerked back and forth by the demands of her children, her son and two daughters competing for grannie’s attention. Who’s going to take care of Viviana’s grandchildren, and her father-in-law? Clad in slinky, satin blue pajamas, Pécora shows us what it means to be an aging modern woman in one outrageous parody after another. Viviana has a life of her own and doesn’t want to be a full-time grandmother. With flailing arms outstretched, she pantomimes being pulled in many different directions, like Tüpac Amaru, the Incan martyr, who rebelled against the Spanish conquistadores, and was executed by being torn apart alive. We get the message. Viviana feels like the Incan monarch tortured to death by the Spanish conquerors. But Pécora, with her liquid arms and expressive face, makes it palatable and, judging by audience laughter, painfully funny.
With the greatest of acting ease, Pécora draws us into Viviana’s conflicts as a caregiver. Her daughters, Laura and Luciana, decide to give her a “Shower Tea,” (like a bridal shower) to celebrate their mother’s retirement. The action of the play, for the most part, takes place at this social gathering, where her eccentric friends discuss “women’s issues” and trade life experiences. By changing vocal registers, Pécora changes characters, with a toss of her head or a shrug of her shoulders. And we hear from several characters, with differing points of view, about the process of growing old.
Rosario is living the best moments of her life because she’s read the self-help book, “How To Be a Disaster and Enjoy It,” and her antidepressants are “…working well.” The experiences of Amalita bring this one-woman sideshow to a highlight. At the “Rio Hondo” (Deep River), Hot Springs, Amalita loses her false teeth in the swimming pool.
The impersonations pile on top of each other and crescendo into an amazing climactic series of impersonations. Amalita lives out a childhood dream in a fantasy of herself as the famous Russian ballerina, “Maia Plisietskaia.” Threatened with osteoporosis, Amalita takes a beginners classical dance class to fulfill her dream. And Amalita’s interpretation of “The Duck Pond” is a disjointed, outrageous, geriatric take-off of a “Swan Lake” pas de deux, accompanied by the universally acclaimed music by Tchaikovsky. But Amalita doesn’t stop there. She imagines herself to be “…the best dancer in all of Spain,….the terror of the stage….” and bills herself as the “the Frankenstein of Flamenco song.” You get the idea.
What message are we to take away from these frenetic scenes, of deadpan double-takes and larger-than-life enactments? Don’t take refuge in self-help books. Live out your dreams and fantasies.
But what makes Pécora, the actress and adaptor of psychologist Hilda Levy’s self-help book, so fascinating? Nothing is sacred. It’s the mesmerizing performing grace of Pécora herself, as she changes pace. We visualize young and old, generations in transition when Viviana’s daughter Laura announces that she’s pregnant again. Viviana is going to have another grandchild. Standing spotlighted center stage, Pécora plays the moment to the hilt with her big eyes and deadpan frozen jaw. More grandchildren. More demands on her time, more competition. And just when Viviana thought she was liberated.
The wonderful soliloquy from the 85 year old grandmother, Carmen, who describes herself as “an old rag” who is only visited when needed, culminates the finale, that says it all and takes the play to the summits. Carmen tells all her progeny and descendants that they are the owners of their own lives. They can make of their lives what they can. They have free will. “I would rather die happy dancing the Aragonese glide, than living an insipid, boring life, sitting in a wheelchair in a seniors’ home,” Carmen quips.
What’s the secret to continuity and immortality? Again it is Grandmother Carmen, who has the answer. “What more can one ask from life. I have my daughters, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren tearing around out there…and now more are coming.” With that said, Carmen tops off the show with operatic gesture, cape twirls, using the balletic grace of a matador, who is baiting an imaginary bull. And there is a spontaneous outburst of “Olé” from the audience.
This show will have closed by the time you read this review, but watch for Liliana Pécora in the future. I’m sure she’ll have more to say.
Excellently timed simultaneous translation by Marcela Ferlito
Women of 60 (Mujeres de 60) Based on the book by Hilda Levy . Adapted and Directed for Theater by Liliana Pécora . English translation by David Bradley . Produced by Teatro de la Luna for their 16th International Hispanic Theater Festival . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.
Next week, the Teatro de la Luna International Hispanic Theater Festival continues with a play from Puerto Rico (Nov 15 – 17) , and concludes with a play from Uruguay the following week (Nov 22 – 24). All shows are translated into English with either surtitles or simultaneous translation. Details and tickets