Sunday, April 1, 2012

FITB XIII: Gemelos

Photo from: Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá

Teatro Cinema
Santiago, Chile
Teatro Nacional Fanny Mikey, Saturday 24 March, 3:00

A Tale of Innocence and Perversion

Based on the book Le grand cahier (The Notebook) by Agota Kristof, Gemelos tells the story of a pair of twin boys who are sent away to escape the bombings in the city during the Second World War. The story is told with classic fairy tale iconography: two innocents must cling together and learn to survive, an absent mother, a wicked grandmother, an even crueler outside world. The boys learn about fortitude, compassion, deceit, manipulation, and finally love, but the lessons are self-taught and the version of humanism at which the boys arrive is a dark and twisted vision.

This production describes itself as "cinematographic theatre," which I would consider a bit of a misnomer: Although the opening scenes are framed with a camera shutter that closes and opens on different views, the overall image is that of puppet theatre. The puppet theatre sits on the dimly lit stage, with its curtains drawn, as the audience files in. The impact is slightly alienating: puppets are generally not the medium of choice for adult theatre. Seen through the lens of a camera, or within the frame of the puppet stage, the characters are made small. They are reduced by circumstances that are much larger than they are. Don't be put off by the genre though; this was a beautifully conceived and executed performance.

The three human characters move with the stiff woodenness of puppets. There is no sophistication. The simple neighbor girl --who is used and abused by the priest and then by the soldiers-- is a defenseless rag doll. The childlike response of the twin boys to their situation is crude, innocent and honest in its simplicity. They deliver their lines with the innocent frankness of the child who observes that emperor has no clothes, making the truth impossible to ignore.

The young boys focus on surviving. They beat each other up while repeating: "This does not hurt me. This does not hurt me," to train themselves not to feel. They labor hard on their grandmother's farm, to become strong, hard, and self-sufficient. They learn to ignore the insults of the villagers who consider their grandmother a witch and their mother a slut. They learn to disregard their grandmother's scorn for their mother. The cruel lessons of life give them the strength demand more food from their hardened grandmother, and to go to the shoemaker and demand shoes (who tells them that they do not have enough money for two pairs or shoes, but who gives them the shoes anyway, along with a pair for their friend, and a leather ball… just before he is taken away to the concentration camp). They confront the priest who has been sexually abusing the mentally deficient neighbor girl who they protect. They demand that he provide the girl and her mother with charity for survival, and they fully agree with the priest that what they are doing is extortion.

The fact that the characters are portrayed as puppets is the literal expression of their desensitization and dehumanization. The priest (the one who has been sexually abusing the neighbor girl) understands the monstrosities that the twins have become: "Whatever their crime, forgive them. Poor lambs who have lost their way in an abominable world, themselves victims of our perverted times, they know not what they do."

This was a beautifully complex staging and performance. One of the best pieces I have seen during all the years I have attended the Iberamerican Theatre Festival in Bogota.

Photo from: Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá

No comments: