Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City
Through Nov. 25
In just over an hour, the Bolivian Teatro de los Andes company's "En un Sol Amarillo: Memorias de un Temblor" (In a Yellow Sun: Memories of an Earthquake) contextualizes, documents and mourns both the tragic human dimensions and the appalling political opportunism in the wake of a severe earthquake that struck at the heart of one of the country's agrarian regions in 1998. While focusing on the death and destruction that followed the leveling of the colonial town of Aiquile, where more than 100 died and thousands were left homeless, the four-actor company asks why natural disasters are so often accompanied by the abandoning of basic human values.
The simplicity and humility of the presentation is a tribute to the writer and director, 52-year-old Argentinian Cesar Brie, a man literally without a country. By making each of the fact-based episodes as universal as possible, limiting his outrage to the obvious political and military targets, he creates theater that encourages the audience to engage with the nobility and capacity of the human spirit under unimaginable stress.
Everything about the production impresses. The bits and pieces of furniture, windows and door frames hang on ropes and pulleys from the rafters; whenever the earth shakes, they fly off in a terrifying assault of dangerous orbits, apt symbols of the quality of life in Aiquile and the instability of life everywhere. After the earthquake, the actors literally choke on mounds of dirt and cough up dust.
The quality and range of the actors make them convincing to such an extent that, by the end of the hour, it seems as if their thoughts are being transmitted directly to the audience, almost without the help of the supertitles projected on two screens above the stage.
At times one actor moans; later, another sings; and when a group of survivors returns to see the "reconstruction" of Aiquile, they move in sad metaphoric unison. Mostly, however, it is the cast's ability to inhabit their parts without hesitation and without artifice that makes their performances so memorable.
This is a not a company of unlimited resources. Each of the actors plays many roles, including victims, politicians, pillaging soldiers and stage hands assisting nature. It is a people's theater in its aggressively bare aesthetics, and for once the minimalism is not a superficial stylistic gesture but an authentic and successful attempt to remove barriers between the stage and the audience.
The music, which alternates between traditional "ethnic" sounds of acoustic guitar and flute and a pathetic, out-of-tune funeral march composed equally of Verdi and Nino Rota, further emphasizes the production's sense of operatic formality and religious ritual.
Some will wonder whether it is indecent to share the pride which the victims show in death, and the love of those left behind. But perhaps the play is not only a recounting of history but a warning that the same tragic march could play out anywhere, echoing a cry for understanding that the survivors of Aiquile scrawl on walls: that God must be in the clouds when such catastrophes occur.
EN UN SOL AMARILLO: MEMORIAS DE UN TEMBLOR
Presented by Center Theatre Group and the International Latino Theatre Festival of Los Angeles
Playwright-director: Cesar Brie
Set designer: Gonzalo Vallejas
Costume designers: Soledad Ardaya and Danuta Zarzyka
Lighting and sound technicians: Giampaolo Nalli and Danuta Zarayka
Music coordinators: Lucas Achirico and Pablo Brie
Various: Lucas Achirico, Daniel Aguirre, Gonzalo Callejas, Alice Guimaraes