There’s an old adage, “What goes around comes around,” that’s apt for Argentine playwright Rafael Bruza’s play. But you have to give yourself up and really believe in what you are seeing enacted before you.
As directed by Mario Marcel, Tango Turco makes sense to a point. Two cabaret tango singers, Amelia, (Marcela Ferlito), and Rodolfo, (Alfredo Sanchez), sing passionately about passion in Argentine nightclubs. They want their sexual liaison out in the open. The way Amelia tells it, the performers dreamt of what life would be like together if she wasn’t married. So while Amelia files her nails, Rodolfo shoots and kills her husband in the garage. We hear it happen off-stage in the opening scene. It’s like a pop gun going off, nothing shattering. Cool, calm and collected, Rodolfo describes it as if it’s an impersonal, drive-by shooting. Then Amelia and Rodolfo talk quietly about dismembering, bagging and burying the body, to eradicate any trace of evidence. Will they get away with murder?
Bravo and brava to Teatro de la Luna for taking the risk to bring us this avant garde comedy of Latin American theatre. Rafael Bruza is the same playwright who gave us the madcap comedy Gentlemen’s Club (Club de Caballeros) last season. Bruza writes in a signature style that can be defined as Theatre of the Grotesque– reality pushed to extremes, to the point of comic absurdity. But here, in Tango Turco, Bruza goes further and combines real life romance and horror, to get us to think about the difference between love and passion.
Tango Turco is a challenging, deeply philosophical play, based on the “milonguita,” that is a typical tango dance, that represents pure blind passion. Because of the murder and the fact that the lovers left the dismembered body dripping with blood in bags on a public sidewalk, Amelia and Rodolfo have to run for their lives. To flee the country, the two tango singers go on a performing tour of Europe that sidetracks into the Middle East, Northern Africa and Egypt. Along the way, they pick up an accompanist, Yussef, a Lebanese. The trio develop a symbiotic relationship.
The most important point to remember here is a little Spanish history. We no longer live on the cathedral steps during the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre when clear moral lines were drawn between right and wrong. Now everything is relative. Human action is for power or individual gratification. No one comes to save us. We must save ourselves. So who are we? Where do we belong? What are our identities? As Amelia and Rodolfo tour from Spain, to France to Rome, they change their identities from Amelia and Rodolfo to Miss Argentine and Mr. Argentine. In a sense, they disguise themselves as allegorical characters, representing Argentina today.
Playwright Bruza exposes hidden prejudices through Yussef, Amelia and Rodolfo. He shows us we all live in a racist society. We think of people as stereotypes. Throughout, for example, Rodolfo is obsessed with his fixed idea of the Turk as a dark-skinned person who is a shop-keeper, or anything but an individual. Yussef’s repeated refrain, “Turk sell for cheap,” the first English phrase he learns, reinforces the bias. And Rodolfo further generalizes that “Turks” are found in Muslim countries everywhere, from Lebanon to Morocco to the Arabian desert. Ultimately, Rodolfo beats up Yussef, The message seems to be: This is grim reality. Underneath our daily tango, this is what we do to each other.
The staging by Mario Marcel, is simple, scaled-down and economical, made effective with lighting by Brian S. Allard. Platforms, a round table and chairs backed with an upstage center screen for projections of locale changes, effectively replace expensive, elaborate sets for Paris or Rome or the Sahara Desert. It’s a basic set design for Bruza’s cynical message about the dark side of modern Argentina. Prejudices may be subtler than during the days of the desaparecidos (missing persons); but we must look within ourselves. We don’t like other people who are different. We don’t feel comfortable in foreign cultures, just as Amelia, Rodolfo and Yussef travel, but go nowhere. They cannot escape the baggage of their biases. In Amelia’s first confrontation with Yussef, for instance, a surreal moment is reinforced by Alex López-Montañez’ piped-in sound of the Muslim call to prayer. Yussef falls to the floor in Islamic prayer, signifying how he also carries emotional baggage, his need for his religious customs wherever he travels. This beautiful moment really gets the message across.
Amelia, a survivor who constantly reinvents herself, is a grotesque character capable of living without illusion. This murderess, who recognizes her own “monstrousness,” outdoes Lady MacBeth. And the gifted Marcela Ferlito delivers a luminous, over-the-top, portrayal. In the beginning, Rodolfo is the passion of her life. Clearly she is the instigator, egging Rodolfo on to murder her husband. By the end of the play, however, Amelia’s sense of right and wrong has completely evaporated under the Sinai desert sun. She tells Rodolfo that, if apprehended, she has the perfect alibi. No one really knows the details, except that she was kidnapped, seduced. “Today, lawyers are able to perform more miracles than healers,” she says. Essentially, Amelia and Rodolfo are modern, amoral characters who get away with murder.
Or do they?
Ferlito, who makes Amelia oddly likeable, is developing into a versatile, powerhouse character actress with an impressive emotional range. Her Amelia is a heartless hedonist, who takes life as it is, and lives for passionate expression without deep attachment to anything or anyone. From the first scene, Ferlito conveys sensitive nuance beneath the surface. Her Amelia is not only sexy and seductive but also a person out of control, edgy, disjointed and oddly detached. Her lady-like costume, a black sheath worn with pearls, (costumes by Nucky Walder and Rosita Bécker), in the last scene, is ironically effective.
Rodolfo, the troubled killer, is gradually becoming unhinged. He comes across as a well-intentioned, ham-fisted blunderer. The character is obsessed with hiring a musician who can play the bandoneon, an instrument that is not at all like an accordion. It’s the reed-like concertina that gives Argentine tango music its special identity. No matter. It’s an absurd passion. Haunted by ghosts that represent his guilt, he cannot return to his native land. He imagines the INTERPOL is after him in every European capital. Only in Lebanon does he feel free of European culture and survivor guilt. Even in Egypt he imagines Amelia’s husband, like a curse, sitting across from him. At the end, Sanchez’ depiction of Rodolfo’s slow realization of the horror of his life stripped of illusion is highly effective. Ultimately, what goes around comes around and he is forced to face reality.
TANGO TURCO (Turkish Tango)
Closes May 18, 2014
Teatro de la Luna at
Gunston Arts Center
2700 S. Lang Street
1 hour 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $15 – $35
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Overall, this play prods you to shed illusions and move forward. Each scene has a surprising, edgy twist as the action slowly builds to the final, shocking irony at the end. Three talented players make it funny and worth experiencing. At the performance I saw, the audience laughed out loud throughout the play.
Performed in Spanish with English subtitles (English translation, David Bradley, and Rei Berroa’s students at George Mason University).
Note: The Friday night performance is followed by a post-performance discussion which is edifying
Tango Turco (Turkish Tango) by Rafael Bruza. Direction, set and sound design: Mario Marcel . Featuring Jerry Daniel, Marcela Ferlito and Alfredo Sánchez . Lighting design: Brian S. Allard . Assistant director, Paolo Gonzalez . Produced by Teatro de la Luna . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.