The title, New Guidelines for Peaceful Times, sounds like a satirical take on a dystopian world. But it’s not. It’s a much more earnest, honest, and delicate look at how war—the internal and the global—affects an individual, society, and art, specifically theatre.
Two men. That’s basically it. One a Brazilian immigration officer named Segismundo (Carlos Saldaña) and the other a Polish immigrant named Clausewitz (Michael Kevin Darnall) fleeing Europe post WWII. They sit in an office discussing why (and negotiating how) Clausewitz should be let into the country. Clausewitz claims to be a farmer because Brazil needs good hands for farming. Though, back in the day he was an actor. But now that WWII—and the Holocaust and the Nazis—have come and gone he’s not so sure there can be a world with art anymore.
New Guidelines for Peaceful Times
closes October 28, 2018
Details and tickets
Segismundo, orphaned as a child, is cool, calculated, and a bit distant. This is a man who has too much power and not enough empathy. Both have suffered. And that is the gist of the play, which rests on the charisma and skills of the two leads to carry the audience through 60 minutes fraught with painful memories of being tortured and being the torturer. To say much else would give away too much. This is a production that really uses the “less is more” adage with precision and perfection, thanks to director Roberta Alves.
New Guidelines, written by Bosco Brasil and making its US debut at Spooky Action, is a dialogue-heavy rumination on many things and that dialogue, so well written, frames a near effortless tension, which is further constructed and held taut, gracefully, by Darnall and Saldaña. Darnall (one of DC’s best, in my opinion) exudes the quiet confusion of a (new) man in a strange land, struggling with language to make an eloquent case for himself. That Clausewitz was an actor before—who once delivered impassioned soliloquies in his native language that moved audiences—sharpens his struggle, as he stammers through his war experiences using only a chair as prop to paint images of imprisonment and murder. He understands words and their impact on people, including Segismundo who he must reach if he is to stay in Brazil.
Saldaña is brilliantly arrogant and detached at moments and suddenly, subtly fully spent, a company-man representing government corruption trying to both forget and reconcile the orders he’s followed. Orders not all that different from the ones Nazis were handed. In a way, Darnall and Saldaña dance, leading and following each other through wonderful twists and turns up until the very end, trading on and off who has the upper hand. The actor or the immigration officer. It makes you question what is real and what is not.
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New Guidelines challenges you on art’s place in the world. Art is born of real life and channels it in a way that allows us to be moved, to reflect, to stop and breathe in life in a way that we cannot when going through the day-to-day motions of survival. Thus, it has a place even in peaceful times. Especially in peaceful times. The play also speaks volumes about immigration and how we treat those dealing with traumatic aftermaths of any kind. While the time is immediately post WWII, it is unsettling how the themes—the suspicion Segismundo heaps onto Clausewitz—feel akin to the headlines of today, wherein the US (and others) are aiding in wars (economic, physical, or otherwise) across the globe and then unceremoniously shuttering borders to those seeking refuge. The thing is, there are no New Guidelines for Peaceful Times. Only countries with power and individuals without.
And yet, individuals make up a country and, thus, their power structure. We should make sure those individuals have theatre, and all manner of art, in their lives. New Guidelines for Peaceful Times—a stellar, moody, and moving production—will have you believing in the urgency of that notion.
New Guidelines for Peaceful Times by Bosco Brasil . Directed by Roberta Alves. Translated by Luciana Kezen for Spooky Action Theatre. Featuring Carlos Saldaña and Michael Kevin Darnall. Production Vivian Allvin, Assistant Director; David Crandall, Sound Design; Teca Fichinski, Set and Costume Design; Kyle Grant, Lighting Design; Carrie Kirby, Costume Assistant; and David Gaines, Movement Coach. Stage Managed by Brandon Rashad Butts. Produced by Spooky Action Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.
Note: Bosco Brasil donates his royalties from the play’s productions to AVSI-USA, an international NGO that supports refugees and migrants around the world. Information about AVSI-USA is at www.avsi-usa.org