Pasos Azar/Random Steps takes us beyond the expected boundaries of limitations and expels stereotypes. The Gunston II stage is stripped naked to its cement walls with only strip spot-lights glaring down on scattered costumes among suitcases. The stark, barren stage hits us like a splash of cold water and becomes a metaphor for the nothingness we face.
Pasos al Azar/Random Steps, is the first three-act play for Angeles Páez, an experienced television and film actress in Spain. It is a contemporary tragicomedy without intermission, that breaks all the rules of traditional theater. Director Rolando San Martín is a risk-taker, as is this budding playwright.
It is 1640, the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, and three women are alone on the Spanish moors. They have been touring with their leader, Salazar, who after a mysterious illness is dead. Without a leader, the women argue about what to do next and, unable to agree, turn against each other.
Páez, a statuesque blond, dressed in modern-day, rehearsal outfit of black shorts and a scoop-necked top, flamboyantly portrays Teresa, the lead character, by pounding the stage’s cement wall and laughing hysterically. At one point in a frenzy of grief, Teresa cries out that she wants to die. How can three single women journey through life without Salazar, their paternalistic guide?
Director San Martín utilizes the full stage space. The three actors are terrific, perfect embodiments of lost souls in a meaningless universe. Without a male protector, which they are conditioned to expect, they’re despondent. Actress Elena Seguí, who darts back and forth in futile movement, is a stand-out for her emotional range. Raquel Guerrero, as Rufina, costumed in black tights, and a grey, ripped tunic, impresses us with her pantomimic, total body physicality, expressing despair. She repeatedly asks: “What are we going to do with the body?” At moments, she crawls randomly across the stage. Welcome to their hell.
Páez, equally imposing as Teresa, ironically cites references to historically-famous Octavianus, the first Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, who formed the political alliance with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, a three-man dictatorship, the Triumvirate during the Roman Empire. Teresa urges her compatriots to form a triumvirate to keep up appearances and continue as a performing arts company. Unexpectedly, however, Teresa is forced to pantomime a sword fight with herself; she has no opponent. The other two haphazardly wander off in their own directions. The three women cannot get their act together.
Their inheritance from Salazar is a letter from the King of Spain, that Teresa reads out loud. If we assume this is 1640, this king would be Philip IV, who reigned from 1621 until death in 1665, who seeks relief from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), that pitted Protestants against Catholics and ravaged Europe. The King invites Salazar and his starving female performers, reputed to be great beauties, to feast with him after a performance in his garden.
Teresa, Luisa and Rufina break out into competitive fights over what to perform. They are riffraff, mere women comedians, not great actors. They’re street performers of interludes, the mock-heroic satires that bring comic relief from the tragicomedies of great male playwrights like Lope de Vega, and Tirsa de Molino. Finally, the squabbling trio decide on Tirso de Molino’s Prudence in Woman, an odd choice.
Molino was celebrated for his The Trickster of Seville, featuring the rogue-hero Don Juan, the legendary seducer of women. Prudence in Women is a revenge play, about a queen left alone, after the king’s death. She is seduced and disgraced by sinful knights in her castle. To take vengeance and prove her fidelity to the king, the queen takes refuge on a mountain top, where she hacks off the head of any knight who dares to wander into her private space.
As the women rehearse, they fall into fiery spats over how they are going to survive as women, vulnerable without their director who served as a husband, lover, protector. They decide tentatively to take Salazar’s stinky body with them, which makes for some hilarious segments. In one, Rufina simulates making love to the innate corpse, encased in a body bag (a long white pillow).
In contrast, Luisa is Spanish to the core, true to its 16th-17th century Golden Age of Theatre ideal. Remember, Spain, under the influence of the Italian commedia del ‘arte, allowed women actors on stage; whereas England lagged behind with only cross-dressed boy actors allowed on stage. So Luisa, a Spaniard, rebels. Luisa refuses to masquerade as a man. And Elena Seguí as Luisa, has a stunning, wonderful, emotionally-moving moment, brimming with sincerity in the knight-errant’s soliloquy about loss of identity: “Without me, without you, without God, …. I cannot accept not possessing you“.
Playwright Angeles Páez shows flashes of a gift for pithy, lyrical, hyped language, as illustrated in the Knight-errant soliloquy. Later in the text, there are some humorous one-liners, such as Rufina’s line: “It is good to have friends, even if it is in hell.” But this play is in-process, in that it feels too improvisational, too unrehearsed. Its random wordiness needs to be nailed down, more structured. The play needs clarification, more details. For example, who is Zorilla, a 19th century author, and what is his relevance?
There is a lot of complicated chatter among the three actors about stagecraft, and the dead director Salazar’s adaptation of Molino’s Prudence in Women. But there is only a mention of the Golden Age women playwrights, such as Ana Caro, (who wrote Valor, agravio y mujer/Courage, Insult and Women, ca. 1640); and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the great Mexican playwright, who defiantly wrote during the Inquisition. And only one allusion to María de Zayas who wrote stories about the bias against intelligent, independent women in Baroque Spain. And only a fleeting reference is made to Juan Rama, a gay actor, renowned gracioso (buffoon/clown) of the Spanish Golden Age, who created his own company. Why couldn’t we hear more specifics about these artists instead of hearing about them as obscure references? I wish Páez had explored more about their lives.
In the end, Luisa, who realizes before dying, that only fear has made the women think that they need a male leader. There is hope. Fiercely individualistic Rufina strikes out on her own. Yet, Teresa is left alone, in chilling isolation. If this courageous theatre piece is allegorical, then the message is grim: All we have is ourselves. In our modern age, we are horrifically isolated. Nothingness is all. We must struggle on alone.
Kudos to Sharon Desiree, Carolina Calderón and Marcela Ferlito for simultaneous dubbing. Translation by: Professor Rei Berroa’s students at George Mason University.
Pasos al Azar/Random Steps . Written by Angeles Páez . Directed by Rolando San Martín . Produced by Si Acaso Teatro from Spain for Teatro de la Luna’s XVII International Festival of Hispanic Theater . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.
Pasos al Azar has closed.
Next at Teatro de la Luna’s 17th International Festival of Hispanic Theater: Nov 7 – 9, Mea Culpa from Honduras and, Saturday matinee, Nov 8, a children’s play, Siempre Amigos/Buddies Not Bullies from the U.S. Both are bilingual.