Friday, November 22, 2013

Teatro 17-18: A thing I've learned, or Loza into Paula via Drut

OK!  As mentioned, my fourth Santiago Loza play was “Mal de montaña” and I saved it for a new post because it’s a good lead-in to a larger artistic phenomenon I’ve been noticing here.  M de M is directed by Cristian Drut, a well-regarded youngish BsAs director.  Kind of a North-America-process director in the way Loza is that kind of playwright: rather than developing things from scratch on an ensemble, Drut starts with an existing script and then casts and directs it.  (Often foreign plays in translation.)

The first thing one notes about the Mal de Montaña production is that it is SUPER chic.  Very disciplined and gorgeous in an extremely low-buck minimal way— a real example of how much you can do with very little, especially in terms of set and lighting.  (Mujer Puerca was another good example of this.)  Every moment of the play looked the cover of an album.  In fact this is the only production photo you’ll see on this blog for which I did the terrible thing of sneaking the iPhone out of my lap and taking a picture during the show.  The publicity stills are fine, but I just needed you to see.

But there's a more interesting thing about Drut’s approach here.  Mal de M, unlike Loza’s three other plays, isn’t a solo but a four hander.  Still very Loza though: most of the “scenes” are really monologues (tp which someone else occasionally adds “Wow” or “Really?”)  They’re all 20sth 30sth urban anomie young people and the stories have this nice combination of being very funny (as usual) in the beat-to-beat, which only partly obscures the stories’ overall dark-dark-darkness.  It doesn’t add up to a single narrative, which is fine, and for that matter I have to admit I’m not even sure how differentiated the characters are.  But anyway.  What Drut does is to run the sequence of scenes one into the next without pausing, and with nobody leaving the stage at any time.  So that even more interestingly, the people as they stay onstage can become different people— for example, the one woman in the cast kind of winds up “playing” all the different women referred to in the others’ stories.  And yes, I said “referred to”, because the actors often inhabit the scenes not as a participant of the scene but as a kind of manifestation of a person who is being spoken about.  And these roles don’t stay static in this staging— Drut sometimes swaps lines, so that the person who is “really” there—who is being spoken to (instead of spoken of)—can change during the course of the scene.  I thought this was a smart way to respond to what could be criticized as the maybe generic feeling of the characters— if the monologues feel a bit like cries from a whole kind of person, or even a whole generation, then why not have the production literalize that feeling?

I realized that this show isn’t the first time I’ve seen these techniques in Buenos Aires, even in very different kinds of productions.  I mentioned I think that Daniel Veronese’s Bergmann adaptation was basically very commercial and, to me, unremarkable.  But one interesting thing he did, in this conventional play which clearly takes course over the course of one long day, was never never pause the action or dim the lights, etc, to indicate the passing of time.  For example at one point we’re setting the table for dinner, but soon it seems as though dinner is over, though we haven’t stopped talking.  And by the end it seems like the middle of the night, though “passage of time” has never been specifically indicated.  Also, Claudio Tolcachir uses the same technique in the third act of Coleman— it's everywhere here.  A very nice kind of subtly non-literal stage time.

Then the other thing that Drut’s work on M de M reminded me of was this piece called Fauna by Romina Paula.  This one really deserves a review, it’s quite famous here, everyone loves Romina, she’s young and a movie actress and popular two-time novelist and Fauna is her third play (as writer/director in that BsAs way), each one more successful than the next.  (She’s beginning to get a bit of "over her" backlash in fact.)  But I liked Fauna a lot, it’s a very very smart and slippery play, about an actress and director who go out into the country to research a movie based on the life of Fauna, a late (and fictional) larger-than-life woman poet and cowboy who dressed as a man and was generally a badass.  They’re interviewing Fauna’s son and daughter and re-enacting scenes and things quickly get weird.  So it’s sort of about representation.  I’d be very curious to see how it resonated in the US.

As a director, Paula also stages Fauna with this great minimal elegance that BsAs theatre does at its best.  And the really interesting thing here was that on the page Fauna is a bit more conventional than Mal de Montaña, in the sense that the scenes happen in specific places, in order, and add up to a narrative.  But in her production Paula does the same thing with her own text that Drut did with Loza’s: mushes the scenes together so there are no gaps to imply passage of time or change of place.  And even more interestingly, Paula leaves all the characters on stage all the time, even when they’re “not there”—in some cases they're indicated or contemplated as someone talks about them, in some cases they sort of respond as if they “hear” something they’re not really “there” for.  Interesting.

In my opinion, Paula may have even gone a bit overfar with this device: the production got some laughs in places that I think came from the audience actually misreading who was actually “onstage” for a given moment.  But it was interesting to see this approach applied to a play that’s more or less structurally conventional on the page.  And applied by the playwright herself!  Put alongside the “no pauses between scenes” tradition here, what it adds up to is that, in subtle but key ways, average audiences here are comfortable with a more abstracted kind of stage space than we’re used to seeing on American stages.  It really makes me wonder how these kinds of techniques would resonate on conventionally structured American texts.  You know, Lindsay-Abaire, Auburn, Letts, Guirguis, Baitz, Greenberg, all these good playwrights who really aren’t formally innovative.

PS, of course there’s a way to think that this may all have been borne of necessity: when you have to strike the show every night (and also when you have little money), you need to imagine a stage space without literal sets, which maybe opens other doors…?

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