dom. Feb 17th, 2019

Four Can’t-Miss Plays from Buenos Aires’ ‘Off-Corrientes’ Scene | BubbleAr

Buenos Aires is one of the leading capitals of the world when it comes to theater (believe it or not, it’s up there with New York and London when it comes to numbers, both in production and exhibition). That’s why sometimes, with the vast amount of options from which to choose, it’s not easy to know where to start.

There are roughly three types of production in the city, which coexist but often have different goals when it comes to style, quality, and even politics. First, there’s the famous Avenida Corrientes, the most commercial of the two; second, the Teatro Oficial (which is made up of Teatro Sarmiento, Teatro San Martin, and Teatro de la Ribera, among others). These productions are State-funded, not-for-profit, and so tickets tend to be more accessible. However, “Off-Corrientes” also includes Teatro Oficial; it tends to designate a style such as the teatro de revista, musicals, lighter comedies featuring mainstream actors of the likes of Ricardo Darín or Darío Grandinetti, and a more lavish production. Finally, indie theater is where one can find the most experimental and up-and-coming people in the industry.

It’s not everyday one gets to see plays starring, written, and directed by women. Women are a majority when it comes to studying theater and breaking into the scene. However, the most powerful positions, such as directing, are overwhelmingly occupied by men. These three productions hopefully mark a shift in a new direction, and are well worth a watch.

Las Amargas Lágrimas de Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant)

This new adaptation of the eponymous movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a must-see, if not for the adaptation itself, than at least to witness Muriel Sana Ana at her best, interpreting fashion designer Petra Von Kant.

Fassbinder died much too young; however, he had an extensive career in film and managed to be one of the exponents of what critics dubbed New German Cinema. The Bitter Tears… goes along the same lines as his famous “BRD Trilogy,” which consists of three films: The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola. In revisiting certain female tropes of German Cinema in the thirties (think Marlene Dietrich’s Lola or The Blue Angel), Fassbinder’s camera leads us back to the climate of supposed prosperity and amnesia in postwar Germany, which translates into a kind of decadence.

Like many of the women Fassbinder portrayed — a fictional universe full of has-beens, spinsters, rebellious women past their prime — Petra is a successful woman. She insists on being a woman of principle; she speaks of her fame and worldly travels, money, humility and power, all the while confined to her apartment. That is until she meets the young and bubbly wannabe model Karin, played by Belén Blanco, and they become a couple. Then it becomes not so much a melodrama, one of Fassbinder’s recurring genres, as a parody of a melodrama, where suffering is comedic, an exaggeration of Petra’s own extravagance.

When one enters the theater, the stage is already set, partially lit and uncovered. Mannequins are strewn around the room like the plastic carcasses of naked women. Eli Sirlin’s lighting, with washes of pink, red and white, make up the dreamlike ambiance.

The original film was very theatrical to begin with: the same setting throughout, no flashbacks or flash-forwards. The set designed by Gabriela Galán is a subtle strong-suit, although with a much more minimal approach compared to Fassbinder’s depressing excess. A see-through fabric covers the whole set, making it at once seem like a sanctuary and a trap. Looking in, one feels enclosed in the room along with Petra; our faces are reflected back at us in almost wall to wall mirrors, though with a distorted fun-house effect.

Like most of us, Petra faces a crisis, not of identity but of self-perception. So for Petra nothing, not even love, is outside herself. We then slowly understand that the play is not about a couple, but about a love triangle: between the couple and Petra’s silent, though looming, assistant, and between Petra and her self-image. The play is also very much about love and its different forms, like the making and remaking of a luxurious dress, shape-shifting into maternal love, sexual infatuation, silent, servile admiration or crazy passion.

N.B.: It’s best to check for tickets on Mondays first thing, when new dates are added, as it’s usually sold out for the following week.

Las Amargas Lágrimas de Petra von Kant | Teatro San Martín | Avenida Corrientes 1530 | Thu-Sun, 8:30 PM | Tickets

Museo (Museum) and Tren (Train)

Much like a visual artist would do, Museo and Tren (two separate plays, in case you were wondering) are part of a retrospective by the all-female theater group Piel de Lava (Lava Skin). In theater, however, where acting it is an embodied and ever-present experience that gets cycled and recycled in every performance, a retrospective is more so an act of self-reflection. Valeria Correa, Elisa Carricajo, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes have been working together for fifteen years now, dedicated to investigating theater as a creative practice.

What this means is that, as they’ve said themselves, the process of working with an idea for a play as raw material is as important as the end result, in the same way a scientist would test out hypothesis about a certain problem within their field. But this doesn’t mean the end result isn’t as monumental, compelling and moving as it is. This quartet has most recently been the driving tour de force behind Mariano Llinás’ 14-hour movie, La flor, which debuted in three parts this past BAFICI. They ended up getting awarded Best Film as well as Best Actress(es). That creative freedom translates into an eclectic catalog of four plays of very different themes and aesthetics, plus a new one, Petróleo, which is also playing at the Teatro Sarmiento.

Like many off-Corrientes plays nowadays, Museo is a metanarrative (as in, it uses the trials within the artistic scene as a means to critique itself). At times, and considering the theater is partly state-funded and so is open to a wider audience, this critique gets a little too jargon-y. One wonders if anyone not up to date with theory or academics can relate: it’s easy to get lost in the mentions of art scholarships, fellowships, and construction materials. But this could also be part of the group’s making fun of itself: the pursuit of “making it” and the obsession with being ahead of the curve, the self-adoration, the empty competitiveness… What is a museum if not a sort of time-freeze? According to the group, Museo is a reflection on what holds a group like Piel de Lava together (time, perhaps), and how necessary are the four parts that make up the whole. In the museum, everyone is replaceable from one moment to the next and not even the museum’s building really exists, because no one seems to be watching. How long can these four curators talk about a project without actually achieving anything but the idea of it?

In Tren, we follow a group of Evangelical women going to a religious seminar in the Buenos Aires province. This play won the FIBA prize in 2009. Once again, the space is transitional, a journey between a place and the next, where the most important event is absent: the seminar itself. The only window to the outside world is that of the train’s; the projection of a rural landscape in real time through a small opening gives a sense of movement. Although it is quite a familiar reference—the Jesus Camp documentary, and any religion-based reality TV program—, it’s a delight to watch women become acquainted at the same time we, the viewers, get to know them. And, more importantly, the world of religion, and of religious sense of belonging, is thoroughly explored (almost) without passing judgement. In the end, all these women want to get somewhere.

Museo and Tren | Teatro Sarmiento | Avenida Sarmiento 2715 | Sun – 8 PM, Sat – 9 PM | Tickets

Matate, amor (Kill yourself, love)

Just a few months ago, when Ariana Harwicz’s translated version of her first novel, Matate amor, made it to the longlist for the International Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the stage adaptation starring Érica Rivas (of Relatos Salvajes fame) was about to debut. It’s not easy to peg any of her two remaining works so far—the second being La débil mental (The Mental Weakling, 2015) and the latest, Precoz (Precocious, 2016) — apart from the commonality of exploring mother-daughter relationships in all their complexity, in an almost compulsive, feverish manner.

Harwicz has also penned her own adaptation, in collaboration with the director, Marilú Marini. The result is one of the most chilling, deranged, but also outright funny, female characters of recent years.

Photo Via: Alejandra López.
Photo Via: Alejandra López.

Érica Rivas fills this one-woman show with stories, people, and places that make her world seem larger than her own words. And it’s a rare feat that this disintegration of character —of motherhood, of perfect wifeliness and obedience, of tender love — is not a tearjerker but outright sinister. Like a bride who wants to kill her husband, or a mother who doesn’t love her child. This giving-out of womanhood is a descent into animal instincts and fierceness, into a witch-like incantation.

In a Virginia Woolf stream-of-consciousness style monologue, and purportedly autobiographical, the obsession with displaying one’s one life as an (in)coherent narrative makes the text unfold as both poetic and informal. At times it even seems like the staging of a sacrifice. The woman distances herself from her own story, with us as confidants and making it up as she goes. We’re stuck in a swamp-like paradise which looks a bit like hell. The objects (a book she writes on, a stump that acts as a chair, or a shawl that doubles as her sleeping baby boy) come to life as in a fairy-tale, and tell as much of a story as she does. As a whole, the story seems unrealistic: not because it’s not believable — which it is— but because it’s too close to home to even say out loud.

Matate, amor | SANTOS 4040 | Santos Dumont 4040 | Fri –  Sat, 8 PM | Tickets

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2018-05-18 11:40:10

Carla Chinski

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