Click here for 24th ST’s latest show

Click here for The Rubicon Theatre’s revival of LA RAZON BLINDADA

 

Stagehappenings by Tony Frankel

Course One (Primer Plato): The Story. Two unnamed political prisoners, languishing in an Argentine maximum security prison, are allowed only one hour each Sunday to congregate: the inmates make use of storytelling, specifically Cervantes’ Don Quixote, as a means to find solace under great duress. This course feeds the spirit, for it is an austere reminder that – amidst the United States’ current political polarization – there still remains the freedom to opine one’s conscience without fear of penalization.

Course Two (Segundo Plato): The Actors. Because the play is in Spanish with English Supertitles it is nearly impossible to read all of the dialogue, as the projected text moves forward with great rapidity. Fear not. Words, as with food, may be the feast that nourishes taste and smell, but it is the actors who heighten the subtext, thereby satiating our senses of hearing and sight. Allow your eyes to stray from the English that is shown on an upstage center screen. Instead, study and watch consummate actor Jesús Castaños-Chima as he supplies terror and impending madness to his character who so desperately identifies with De La Mancha, the errant-knight who perceives beauty in a world of injustice. Words could never supply the love, understanding and joy radiating from Tony Duran, whose Panza embodies horse, dog and Dulcinea in an attempt to keep his visionary friend from collapsing into insanity. The way in which these actors dexterously shift from reality to fantasy, from rigidity to laxity, creates a palpable sense that these men have been exposed to physical and emotional abuse. This course feeds the imagination.

Main Course (Plato Principal): The Writing. Playwright Aristides Vargas mixes Kafka and Cervantes with testimony from those who were imprisoned during Argentina’s 1970s dictatorship, and then whips it up into what can immediately be recognized as literature. As his characters use storytelling to mentally flee from captivity, so too does Vargas escape the confines of language with imaginative prose, distinct style and aesthetic excellence. He frees his audience from the shackles of linguistic ordinariness by intensifying everyday communication. It’s almost as if Vargas were celebrating struggle – without which we would never know the weightlessness of true freedom. As with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, this is literature that contains the potency necessary to incite our demand for social transformation. As Ezra Pound wrote, “Literature is news that stays news.”This course feeds the intellect.

Specialties (Especialidades de la Casa): The Direction. The ingredients of any great dish could be unpalatable were it not for a master chef. By adding equal parts nuance and innovation, Vargas conclusively refutes the theory that one should not direct his own material. During the one hour allotted to the prisoners, they are not allowed to move from their chairs, lest they be shot by the guards: the term jailbird becomes appropriate as they balletically travel about the stage by utilizing castered chairs and tables – their storytelling adventures take flight while they remain seated. A climactic scene involving the iconic tilting of a windmill exemplifies the ability of theatre to transport us to worlds beyond, even as we remain grounded in a tiny space known as 24th Street Theatre in Los Angeles. It is a moment of extraordinary imagination, stunning theatricality and spiritual awakening. This course feeds the soul.

Dessert (Postre): The Design Elements. Stage manager Eric Chi calls Gerson Guerra’s brilliantly ethereal lighting design with razor-sharp precision. Vargas himself executed the haunting sound design; most effective is his use of the transcendent Fauré’s Élégie for Cello and Orchestra. Miguel Nunez’ video design suggests the vast and eternal plains surrounding the prison – the plains which the prisoners yearn to experience – it is above these projections that Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez’ magnificent English translation is displayed. This course compliments the entire meal.

The allusion to a fine dining experience is no accident: the presentation was exceptional, the service of the actors was impeccable, and the prolific writer/director Señor Vargas had me ruminating and digesting a serious social issue without being left with a bad taste in my mouth. La Razón Blindada is an exceptional achievement which reminds me why I hold theatre as the preeminent art form.

La Razón Blindada – U.S. Premiere at and by 24th Street Theatre, in partnership with Instituto de Cultura de Baja California, Mexico and La Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa, Mexico. 1117 West 24th Street (at Hoover), Los Angeles. Reserve tickets by phone: 213.745.6516; or buy online at www.24thstreet.org.

General Admission Tickets $15-24; North University Park Area Residents pay 24 cents. Saturday Nights at 8:00. Extended through April 30, 2011. Check for further extensions.

Click here for 24th ST’s latest show

Click here for The Rubicon Theatre’s revival of LA RAZON BLINDADA