Monday, January 9, 2012

The Past is a Grotesque Animal: Under the Radar

I checked out El Pasado es un Animal Grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal) at the Under the Radar festival this weekend.*  It is a play from Argentina with text and direction by Mariano Pensotti.  It was performed in Spanish with super-titles.  The set is a rotating platform and the cast of 4 switches off roles and acts as the narrator for each scene.  Spanning a ten year time period, the characters fall in love, travel the globe, experience successes and failures,...wank off with a severed hand.  The director, using discarded photos from a closed down photo lab created the four characters who were his age and how they experienced social change over the past 10 years. 

It's a great concept (though the photographer in me wished we got to see these inspirational photos).  The rotating staging was an unusual but effective tool to keep the action moving and the stories changing.  I found it largely engaging and only draggy at the end (it was 1 hour 50 minutes with no intermission).  Each scene was narrated by another player.  Although there was dialogue in many scenes, the text was mostly narration.  I did not love the fact that narration was the driving force, though it connected it to a more literary history  (which according to the director's notes was his intent).  Not all the dialogue was translated either. 

Seeing a work in a foreign language is a challenge.  I know I do not connect to the material in the same way I would if I spoke that language.  Watching super-titles introduces a certain level of distance from the performance (in this case the narration structure furthered that distancing device for me).  But I do not think that should stop audiences from checking out these works.  Hearing stories from other countries and cultures is one of the pleasures of the New York theater scene.  One of things I miss about my old job of watching foreign films is seeing what stories artists in other countries are putting out there (some of my favorite "recent" Argentinean films include Herencia, Son of the Bride, 9 Queens, The Secret in Their Eyes).  It's telling when the works show you that certain human experiences are universal (here for example, falling in love, dreaming of fame and fortune, family betrayal) but also where our cultures differ (here a Jesus theme park called Holyland--well I guess that might be something the US has somewhere).   

*Complimentary ticket was provided to me by @PataphysicalSci

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