By Omari Eccleston-Brown
Surely the Buenos Aires resident hoping to treat himself to a evening at the theatre has never had it so good. After all it takes little more than the briefest visit to the ‘Espectáculos’ section of La Nación online or the website alternativateatral.com or mundoteatral.com.ar to reveal just how spoilt for choice he is. Perhaps, it used to be the case that to help him decide what to see he could fall back upon at least two trusty divisions: the mainstream or the ´alternative´. The former had for a long time had its base in the theaters that line Corrientes while the charge of the latter was taken on by a handful of small independent theaters around the Abasto/Almagro area, a select few commonly known as Off-Corrientes. However, is this now a thing of the past? These days are the terms mainstream and alternative still useful as a means of distinguishing between plays or have they ceased to be quite so dependable. Of course, the only way to find out was to see some plays.
The first play I decided to see was Bloqueo the latest offering from Rafael Spregelburd, the former king of the BA underground theatre scene now having made the transition over to the mainstream. Spregelburd’s has claimed that his intention was to write a play without introduction or narrative that ultimately descended into pure dialectic. True to form the play was indeed mind-boggling but in its consistent elements of farce it was also very comic. Amid the near nonsense Spregelburd managed to incorporate some witty dialogue and one-liners most of which was given to Javier Drolas, who stood out in his portrayal of the guitarist Abel.
In the end, although Bloqueo may pretend to be unapologetic in its rejection of “the usual sentimentalist nostalgia”, as Spregelburd put it, the chaos that devolved on stage was ultimately explained away as the nightmare experienced by one character - César the sound technician who played the terrified witness to all that occurred within the sealed world of the rest of the characters within the sound booth. If there is any criticism to be leveled at the play it is this rather than its apparent lack of narrative which in itself is engaging and certainly kept me guessing.
The next play on my list to see was El Ojo Del Panóptico (The Eye of the Panoptic), which was showing at the Ciudad Cultrual Konex. The play had been getting several good reviews, which, in particular, drew attention to its extensive use of multimedia. It is certainly undeniable that we are currently witnessing the advance of multimedia as an increasingly viable and seductive form of representation within modern art. However, I do wonder whether, in the light of the total embrace it has enjoyed, multimedia hasn’t somewhere along the line become a mere byword for cool. For instance, we even find that Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ currently showing at Espacio Giesso in San Telmo invites you approach his world from a different angle, that different perspective supposedly obtained merely through the use of multimedia – just a little dubious I feel.
Needless to say then I entered El Ojo somewhat skeptical but was, in fact, pleasantly surprised. As the play begins a voice comes over the speaker to explain the theory behind its title which borrows from a concept first devised by Jeremy Bentham, an 18th century philosopher. Bentham’s own Panopticon was a circular prison with a central look-out tower designed to keep the prisoners in the cells below in perpetual fear of being watched without possible deliverance. El Ojo del Panóptico in its turn intelligently established a cyclical rhythm which passed through three stages Fear, Guilt, and Pain to imagine this intense vigilance turned inwards upon man to produce a final epiphanic moment of self-knowledge. Despite my fears, the production’s incorporation of multimedia was a triumph. A complex tapestry of music and sounds along with various images projected onto the back wall was woven together to create a homogeneous and absorbing sensation, and the dark cavernous space in the converted factory of the Konex center couldn’t have been better suited for this dark production.
My final thought was to see how modern dance fit into the whole picture. I chose to see Pura Cepa (loosely translated: The Real McCoy): a play directed by Ana Frenkel formerly part of the acclaimed dance troupe El Descueve. The production begins with a single woman drunkenly stumbling around on stage while a detached male voice provides the voice of her thoughts, letting us know that she is waiting for her ex-boyfriend and is in mild turmoil about the thought of his imminent arrival. She then slumps onto the floor and as she falls asleep and we are thrown into her dream. The play then develops as a series of sketches which at first seemingly bear no relation to one another. However, as the production goes on a coherent story begins to emerge and it’s a true revelation. One realizes that the play is a novel approach to your run-of-the-mill, pop-psychology, relationship book, like Men is from Mars, Women are from Venus, condensing it instead into a contemporary dance without words. The diversity which Frenkel incorporates into the various sketches is superb and the whole production is hilarious in its refreshing reflection of life.
Having seen these three plays if I were asked to fit them neatly into either the mainstream or the alternative I don’t know that I could. Indeed, I don’t think I would want to as I’ve realized that these terms far from being dependable actually ignore the fact that there has been a meeting of minds giving rise to an engaging and complete theater going experience of the likes perhaps never before experienced in Buenos Aires. So my strong recommendation is to dive straight in as it is definitely worth the venture.