Friday, February 3, 2012

Push 2012 Review #12: El Pasado at SFU Woodward's

The Argentinean writer and director Mariano Pensotti borrows from film an aesthetic of seriality and simultaneity for his large-scale theatrical creations. Both were on display in La Marea, a site-specific work that unfolded in the storefronts of the 100-block of Water Street in Gastown during last year's PuSh Festival. And both are also on display in his latest offering for PuSh, El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal), now on at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward's through tomorrow. However, Pensotti is also deeply wedded to telling stories, and for all the industrial staging and spectacle that go into his pieces, at their heart they remain about the desire for, and the drama of, human connection.

El pasado takes place on a large revolving stage divided into four quadrants, and from which we are introduced in turn (ha, ha!) to four twentysomethings living in Buenos Aires and struggling to shape a future for themselves at the start of the twenty-first century. Mario is a would-be filmmaker who has just started a relationship with a girl named Dana. Vicky is a veterinarian's assistant obsessed with her father's double life. Pablo is an upwardly-mobile advertising executive who stumbles upon a severed hand in an unmarked package left outside his apartment door. And Laura is a poor woman from the provinces who absconds to Paris with her family's life savings in order to remake herself, only to be dragged back home, broken and defeated. Indeed, this theme of attempted escape and unavoidable return plays out for all the characters, as each at one point or another over the decade chronicled in the play moves to another country with grand ambitions of starting a new life, before eventually succumbing to the weight of the past that stalks them so mercilessly.

The added conceit of the piece is that each of the character's stories is narrated to us in serial fashion by one of the other actors, who pass a wireless microphone amongst themselves to recount the different vignettes we are observing in the revolving quadrants, with their remarks then translated into English surtitles via two video monitors suspended stage left and right. Oddly, this does not reduce the drama in any way; if anything, it heightens it, and I was compelled not just by how much humour and physical action (especially involving Pablo and the severed hand he becomes obsessed with) was on offer last night, but also by the deeply affecting turns of all the actors, who in scene after scene must compete for our real-time attention, for an emotional connection, against the torrent of words that is constantly abstracting the present-tense, flesh and blood materiality of their lives into a bunch of dated calendar entries that can then be conveniently archived as part of our collective theatrical memory (the significance of all those file boxes brought out by the supernumerary stage manager over the course of the evening?).

Indeed, what Pensotti shows with this work is not just how our personal pasts, like voracious animals, are always threatening to overtake and consume us, but also how avidly we ourselves cannibalize those pasts: turning them into films (Mario) or ceding them to a friend's theatrical project (Laura); rewriting them in our own (Vicky) or, quite literally, another's (Pablo) hand.


1 comment:

diana s said...

nice review. This was my favorite of the 2012 PuSh offerings, and I was impressed by how well the staging decisions--revolving set, character narrations, and screens with English subtitles--enhanced the performance. The series of vignettes did a powerful job of moving the characters from their early energetic adulthood to their later desire to reflect on their lives through writing, photography, and video.