If you are a regular viewer of Latin America plays, you will find a familiar quality in Our Lady of the Clouds. If you are new to the style, this show presents a good opportunity to give it a try. Written by Argentinian Aristides Vargas and performed here in an English translation, the play is a mix of magical realism, uneasy humor, a touch of melodrama, and dialogue so direct that it sometimes shocks the audience.
Oscar (Edward C. Nagel) and Bruna (Liz Dutton) are exiles who meet again and again in a nondescript space. Each time they meet, they realize that they come from the same country and reminisce about their shared community. As the two recount their memories, they are plagued by a partial amnesia that keeps them from ever fully remembering the details of their pasts, or that they have met each other before. It all has a dream-like quality as the acquaintances perform a series of vignettes that paint a picture of their former home. It is a country that is embroiled in corruption, slander, incest, and police-state suspicions, yet still manages to leave its exiled former inhabitants aching with homesickness and nostalgia.
The show is precisely staged by director Stevie Zimmerman. Absurdism, mask work, and vaudeville are just some of the artistic forms used to weave the dreamy tale, changing with each scene. Some styles are a seamless fit with the written text. Others are more jarring. For instance, the vaudeville scene, while an intriguing bit of experimentation, doesn’t quite work. However, it’s clear that the actors and director spent a great deal of time time and effort playing and creating together to devise this piece. Nagel and Dutton glide chameleon-like through their various roles, demonstrating their range and good grasp of the elevated styles. As they transition from one character to the next, they shed costume pieces and drape them around the stage, filling the gauzy blank space with garments representative of their memories.
Our Lady of the Clouds
by Aristides Vargas
Directed by Stevie Zimmerman
Details and tickets
The highlight of the play is the text itself. It is rich and lyrical, and it left me wishing both that I could pick up a copy of the play to read in English (alas, it has not been published), and that I could see it in its original Spanish. Scattered throughout the dialogue are numerous lines that seem particularly apropos for the current day. “The world belongs to all people,” one character muses, and then wonders when people began to value documents over emotions. With so much efforts at immigration reform, the scene feels timely. Many other exchanges feel similarly appropriate.
Our Lady of the Clouds is not really the type of play that asks to be fully grasped in one sitting. The creative team has conveniently built in time for a brief talk back after the show for audience members who have questions. At that talk back on the night I attended, Zimmerman explained that the show is a revival for the team, and that they brought it to DC because “we thought more people needed to see this play.” I certainly agree.