A Dizzying Zoetrope Kaleidoscope Opens Encuentro 2014 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center
by Selene Santiago
A zoetrope is one of several pre-cinema animation devices that produce the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings or photographs showing progressive phases of that motion.
The opening of Zoetrope Part I, written and directed by Javier Antonio Gonzalez and produced by Caborca Theatre, is everything wonderful about this production: a priest, brilliantly performed by David Skeist, walks on stage and with his back to us begins his monologue. In English and Latin with Spanish supertitles, it’s almost a Romeo and Juliet-esque prologue to the play – “…Severino e Inés.” He speaks into a camera that was, moments before, settled on the audience and the projection of his fantastic face, carved with character and ascetic other worldliness, is splayed across the raw, back wall of Theater 2 at the Los Angeles Theater Center. I sometimes lose his words because I’m too enamored watching him perform. With camera zooming in and out on this character, the spectator is afforded a rare theatrical experience: an intimate relationship with the actor; we notice the nuance of muscle change and eye shift, the symphony of human communication only afforded by personal contact or camera.
Zoetrope is many things: It’s about love and dreams. It’s about liberation from Spain and the U.S. It’s about English and Spanish. It’s about class. It’s about poetry and revolution. It’s about then and now. It’s about El Grito de Lares, colonialism, and being an unincorporated U.S. territory. It’s all of this splattered across a minimal stage of hanging clothes and opposing color grids on the stage floor that represent the U.S. and Puerto Rico. This play is about so much that it becomes too much story that doesn’t climax nor have an end.
The stage manager/stagehand sitting in the back lighting actors for the camera and becoming part of the performance (cultivating and crafting moments to be acted, reenacted, remembered, and told) was enjoyable; yes, this is all a performance, life is a performance with stagehands at the ready.
There wasn’t enough love in the “immersive love story” for me to care about the characters sorta-kinda-but-not-really pining over the absence of each other. The grab bag of performative devices (the constant live-feed video, the burst of random wedding dance, the painfully awkward movement of characters delivering letters, the “subversiveness” of painting the American flag white, etc) underwhelmingly over stimulated my senses and prevented me from being able to identify what the story was about.
I watched with so many questions: Where is this going? Why are the characters caricatures? Why are the actors speaking that way? Why are there naked people suddenly on stage for, like, 30 seconds? Is this the end? This is the end.
Caborca Theatre “is an experimental theatre company making plays that move seamlessly between the irreverent and poetic, the personal and political, and the highly entertaining and intellectually challenging – inspired by Brecht’s view that to be challenged is also to be entertained. Based in New York City and working in both English and Spanish, their work includes new plays, classical adaptations and devised creations.” The Brechtian influences are palpable in Zoetrope Part I: political, critical, lack of climactic catharsis, verfremdungseffekt (estrangement effect) but I feel this production fell victim to technique checklist (ticking off the boxes of theory and practice) and consequently lacks in depth of character and story. The spectator leaves the theater not critically questioning the content (as Brecht would have us do) but instead the entire play. What was that all about?
“Zoetrope Part I” is part of the Los Angeles Theatre Center’s inaugural Encuentro with performances on:
Oct 19 and Nov 1 at 2:30 pm
Oct 19 at 7:30 pm
Oct 23, 25, 31 and Nov 1, 6, 8 at 8:30 pm
Nov 8 at 4 pm