Pueblo Espíritu devised by Organización Secreta Teatro
Reviewed by Amanda L. Andrei
Clutching their face masks and backpacks, four exhausted individuals stumble into a strange forest. Nerves clearly shot, they spray disinfectant at each other and come to blows, but not before a fifth person appears, coughing so hard that they fall to the ground. In the ensuing silence and weight of paranoia, the individuals surrender to their fatigue—and to the spirits of the surrounding land.
So starts Pueblo Espíritu (“Spirit Town”), a wordless multimedia performance devised by Mexico City’s experimental Organización Secreta Teatro and directed by company founder Rocío Carrillo. Wordless, yet carried by character grunts and overhead music swelling with drums and chants, the ensemble (Beatriz Cabrera, Alejandro Joan Carmarena, Brisei Guerrero, Stefanie Izquierdo, Ernesto Lecuona, Mercedes Olea, and Jonathan Ramos) remake their post-apocalyptic environment by communing with the wildness of the spiritual world and returning to embodied material-making practices, such as weaving and ceremonial medicine.
There’s still peril in the spiritual world, though, and tension between physical, social, and spiritual boundaries explored more through dream logic than by way of any definitive storyline. A gloriously painted bird-entity (Carmarena) seems to have power over the dead, but is also susceptible to the tricks of a feral girl (Izquierdo) who appears to be negotiating her status as human, animal, and warrior.
A medicine man (Ramos) leads the group in a ceremony where a fierce feminine divinity arises and dances amidst dangerous laughter (Guerrero), while afterwards an archer and hunter (Lecuona) deals with a terrifying apparition and deer-like spirit (Cabrera) in what could be a nightmare or the birth of something more sinister.
An elderly woman (Olea) observes and absorbs much of this pain, sometimes serving as a guide and other times as a witness.
Carrillo’s direction steers the ensemble between swift dances, tender embraces, and erotic animalistic movements to portray the porous interdimensionality of the worlds. Erika Gomez’s design conjures up a lavish natural world, yet one still marred by civilization and prone to interruption. The mask and makeup elements are particularly inspired and detailed, turning ordinary humans into supernatural creatures in mere moments.
If I could change one thing about the production, I would wish for better audio quality or live performance of the music. While the melodies are epic and reminiscent of traditional indigenous songs, the overheard sound and its slightly tinny quality could be distracting, and moments of the actors lip-synching or chanting along with the soundtrack lent me a slight feeling of uncanny disembodiment, a friction between the digital and the live performance clashing with my visual and aural senses in a way that took me outside of this otherwise enchantingly bewildering world.
However, this friction made silences onstage and any subsequent ensemble noises (sans sound) even more poignant and profound, as the echoes faded and wrapped the audience within a reverent stillness.
While Pueblo Espíritu has a limited run at the Latino Theater Company with only five performances until May 7, the ensemble will also be performing Las Diosas Subterráneas (“Subterranean Goddesses”), an experimental adaptation of the Greek myth of Persephone (the maiden goddess kidnapped by the god of the underworld) juxtaposed with the story of Luz García, a character based on real-life women kidnapped by human traffickers.
With these two stories intertwining, the ensemble seeks to portray the story of mothers looking for their missing daughters while finding strength in community. With these two performances, Organización Secreta Teatro gives us an entryway into vigorously magical worlds, inviting us to examine our own relationships with spirit, land, and power.
Pueblo Espíritu had five performances, concluding on May 7.
Las Diosas Subterráneas performs the following week, on Wednesday, May 10 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m.; Friday, May 12 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 14 at 4 p.m.
Tickets range from $22–$48, except opening night (May 3), which is $58 and includes pre- and post-show receptions. The Los Angeles Theatre Center is located at 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. Parking is available for $8 with box office validation at Joe’s Parking structure, 530 S. Spring St. (immediately south of the theater).For more information and to purchase tickets, call (213) 489-0994 or go to www.latinotheaterco.org
Pueblo Espíritu photos by Ángela Chapa
Las Diosas Subterráneas photo by Erika Gómez
Reviewer Amanda L. Andrei is a Filipina Romanian American playwright, literary translator, and teaching artist residing in Los Angeles by way of Virginia/Washington DC. She writes epic, irreverent plays that center the concealed, wounded places of history and societies from the perspectives of diasporic Filipina women, and she translates from Romanian and Filipino to English. For more information on her work and upcoming events, visit: www.AmandaLAndrei.com
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Reviewed by Amanda L. Andrei
Open Fist Theatre Company
Through March 4
And If I Don’t Behave Then What
L.A. premiere of the new play by Iva Brdar
Ovaries on the concrete. Chin and cheek dimples with the sound of a drill. Being polite, kind, and well-behaved in the face of nameless, insidious forces.
The play consists of various vignettes, starting from Age 0 and culminating when “Woman” is in her 70s. Woman consists of Cynthia Ettinger, reading pages of printed paper or from her phone as she recounts memorable events of a life. However, Woman also consists of Carmella Jenkins, who could be interpreted as a version of a younger self, or another part of the subconscious, and at times Debba Rofheart, the most prominent candidate for the Woman’s mother, voicing the mother’s instructions to her daughter (such as the darkly humorous line, “Don’t sit on concrete, your ovaries will get cold”). And Woman could also consist of Howard Leder, playing the majority of the men’s roles, where the masculine in this world is coldly distant, silent in its brutality, or in a deadpan delivery drawing amusement from the audience, hilarious in its unawareness in giving instructions on how to parallel park.
All these scenes seem to add up to a life that, while portrayed intimately in its details, still feels alienated in the world and to the audience. Rofheart’s “character” (if you can label that part of the text as such) never moves from the seat at the darkened desk, casting a metaphorical shadow of an ever-present yet never-interacted-with mother. And Ettinger has a lovely, soothing voice—when glancing away from the pages, she also serves us lively facial expressions and reactions.
Yet I found myself craving more from the text and questioning the choice to leave the Woman character seemingly on book. Is the Woman a writer or otherwise an intellectual? Is the story so burdensome that it needs an additional interface of pages to separate us from the pain at the heart of these vignettes? From a literary standpoint, these words and images are beautiful, but seeing it performed, I found myself living in my head, the words washing over me, wondering about who the person was behind the text.
And that may be part of the intended effect. I also found myself yearning for more grounding from the playwright’s culture, simultaneously questioning if this world was meant to be a more anonymous post-communist country. The text referenced a former communist country and teaching Marxism, but that could be so much of not only Eastern Europe, but Asia or Latin America as well. I wondered if, from a translation standpoint, there were more words from the original language that could culturally ground the text, or if from a design point, more references to the original culture of the text and its author could be included in the musical transitions or projections—not to exotify, but more to ground an audience member.
Or perhaps that is part of the whole point, that even if the playwright is identified as Serbian, the region has dealt with such a variety of labels, conflict, and grief that perhaps the priority of this performance is not culture, but rather womanhood, the multiplicity of a woman’s life, and the entanglement between mother, daughter, and other knotted ancestral ties and norms packaged up as folk culture to keep us safe. Furthermore, Director Beth F. Milles notes in the program that the piece is written as a “long tone poem” with no punctuation, and so the possibilities for this text are immense. And perhaps this immense tension is what ultimately underlies the piece—that while there are so many possibilities in life, it might still end in a strangely alluring yet alienating mystery.
Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. Parking is free is in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater.
To purchase tickets and for more information call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.