Review: The Audience/El Público by Paper Chairs
by Michael Meigs
It's not possible to descry how much of paperchairs' The Audience/El Público is Elizabeth Doss and how much of it is Federico García Lorca, twentieth-century Spain's greatest poet. One can guess, of course, that the succession of poetic similes describing homoerotic love probably came from the gifted, tormented poet who was arrested and arbitrarily executed by Franco's Falange in 1936 when he was only 38 years old. Playwright Doss's savage depiction of the captors and torturers of García Lorca is certainly hers, a device that frames the play, the action and the hideously cruel destruction of that civil war.
Differentiation is for scholars and quibblers, of which I'm neither. This interpretation and staging is a sensitive but vigorous and often absurdist work that does double duty. Doss gives us an idea of who García Lorca was, invokes his achievement as a poet and theatre maker who sought to resuscitate art for the people, and demands the vanished genius present the story of his own death. Within the brutal confines of the framework, the company prances commedia dall'arte style through tropes that appeared in fragments and versions of the original work. García Lorca's texts depicted a theatre director and a company that employed masks. Eventually the protagonist director discarded the masks that symbolized socially acceptable roles. No masks are used here. Doss's adaptation riffs on the poet's presentation of a Romeo and Juliet scene in which Juliet is revealed to be an attractive young man; instead, the adapting playwright presents her Juliet, played by Cassandra Reveles, as a mythical figure mightily exasperated at being revived perpetually on stage.
Vincent Tomasino as the protagonist director conveys García Lorca's finely tuned sensitivity without the least trace of weakness or affectation. Slim and intent, he's both a realistic character and a vivid symbol of the fate of art at the hands of empowered barbarians.
Zac Crofford is terrifying as the personification of macho fascism. Jorge Sermini, as ardent and haunted as a flamenco dancer, is the protagonist's devoted lover. Capering through a succession of roles, Kelly Hasandras incarnates the exuberance of the stage, while Rommel Sulit is versatile as the intimidated house servant, the blow-hard theatre promoter out to exploit the poet, and other roles. Crofford, Hasandras and Sulit suit up as the three white horses that carry onstage the trestle upon which disenchanted Juliet is perched.
Lisa Laratta's design is exquisitely subtle. The textured walls enclosing the playing space are done in layered colors suggestive of pentimento, and they offer a rich surface for lighting by Natalie George. Laratta has ingeniously fashioned and hung small wire shapes that reproduce some of García Lorca's pen sketches. Co-directors Doss and Laratta are an all embracing team, harmonious of concept and deft of word, design and movement.
García Lorca took as his mission the effort to redeem theatre from its use as vulgar bourgeois entertainment and instead to infuse it with the artistic realities of love, poetry and death. Doss's piece captures the poet's fascination with surrealism and non-conventional theatrical expression. Sharply different from the lyric gitano poetry and folkloric realism of his most famous plays (including Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba), El Público was a departure, a work in progress, read to friends and revised over years before the poet's death rendered it inaccessible. If he'd lived to produce it, the work would have been a stinging repudiation of bourgeois audiences and a cry from the heart for love between men.
Fascism isn't funny, friends, and this production whipsaws its victims -- you, the audience, as warned by the title -- with extremes of clowning, tender vulnerability and psychological violence. The first mocking challenges to the director/victim/poet come from the first row of the Austin Playhouse; later, abandoning the play within a play, the disgusted Juliet steps off the stage to interact with theatre goers and, glowering, take a seat with them. The Audience/El Público ends not with a bang or with a whimper, but with the mechanical rattle, endlessly repeated of the poet's last words in the work, This is the play I wanted to write.
There is no curtain call. The players disappear. Just as Federico García Lorca did in Granada in 1938, never to be located despite repeated efforts to find and identify his remains.
July 26 - August 11, 2018
6001 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78752
July 26th- August 11th, 2018
Thursdays- Saturdays at 8 pm
at Austin Playhouse, 6001 Airport Blvd. Austin, Texas 78752
Tickets: $15-$35 sliding scale, All General Admission