Friday, January 07, 2011

THEATER: Diciembre

Photo/Valentina Newman

[Part of the Under the Radar Festival]

Considering how absurdly arbitrary the reasons for getting into a war usually are in the first place, it makes sense that Guillermo Calderon's stark, political comedy Diciembre, spends much of its time bickering over semantics. The fleet pace at which a Peruvian soldier home for the holidays, Jorge (Jorge Becker), bickers with his two pregnant sisters, Trini (Trinidad Gonzalez) and Paula (Mariana Munoz), helps to put the play firmly on familiar territory -- Christmas dinner with the family -- and it's a tact that works admirably in its own favor, especially since the entire show is in Spanish (with English supertitles) and deals with a fictional war (based on actual politics) occurring in 2014.

Of the many things addressed by the play, the split between Paula's nationalist ardor and Trini's humanistic pacifism -- they argue over whether or not Jorge should desert the army, ignoring his own wishes in the matter -- is the most arresting, tying political issues to family concerns. And Calderon's anecdotal choices are quite effective in their originality, from the way Jorge (a carpenter) has wound up portraying Jesus in the Army's yearly manger scene, to the arrival of Jorge's girlfriend, Mona (doubled by Munoz), who has misunderstood Jorge's Dear John letter to her, on account of all the military censoring. Calderon directs his work with a solid hand as well, using gaudy lighting (red, green, blue, and white bulbs, hanging low from an old chandelier) in order to better contrast the "cheer" of Christmas with the war-related blackouts that keep rippling through their home. It also meshes with the deliberately staged finale (which uses two outside spotlights) to emphasize the significance of the sisters' final revelation: all the men are at war, so how did they wind up pregnant?

Equal parts playful and dead serious, Diciembre is a must-see of the festival.

[Odd side-note: though the program points out that the shows Teatro en el Blanco performs are created through the collaboration of the core five members, with biographical information worked into the productions to fill them with artistic integrity, Ms. Munoz, who replaces Paula Zuniga, does not take anything away from the power of this production.]

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