By Raquel Carrio
Produced by Teatro Buendia
Inspired by Marat-Sade by Peter Weiss
At Goodman Theatre
*Performed in Spanish
I enjoy watching the play rather than the subtitles so I cannot claim to understand everything that was taking place on stage, since I speak very little Spanish, but the visually stimulating poetically performed production was an exceptional treat for the city of Chicago. The Cuban theatre company Teatro Buendia’s Charenton was the second and last show performed in Teatro Buendia’s ground breaking visit to Chicago. Arriving at the theatre there was a long line reaching all the way to the entrance of Goodman theatre. I have never seen a line for a show at Goodman’s Owen Theatre. This unique experience made a connection with its viewers, and lived up to the audience’s high expectations.
Charenton is a play-within-a-play. The inmates of a mental asylum called Charenton perform a play written by the Marquis de Sade. The play takes place in 1793 and depicts the last days of Jean-Paul Marat. Marat believed and fueled the French Revolution, and four years later he is haunted by the many deaths brought upon by the Revolution. Marat and Sade engage in a political dialogue about the virtues of the Revolution. Marat still desires a peaceful equality and Marquis de Sade wants equality through guillotine. Through the play the French citizens speak of the hardship of their lives since the Revolution’s victory. We witness the complexity of a failing Revolution, a revolution fueled by the people who had the desire for equality and social harmony, and the feelings of the people after it lead to a life of starvation, loss of their brothers and dictatorship so shortly after the euphoric sense of victory. The parallels between the Cuban Revolution and Cubans current living situation are brought forth humanly, tugging at your heart and provoking your mind. The drama and words unsaid are deep, but this performance is a comedy and Teatro Buendia searches for the humor in almost every situation Within the play there is a great remark saying “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, and then as a comedy.”
I found much of the humor to be childish and overly theatrical. Constant sexual innuendos are thrown into the mix through out the performance, but the intelligence behind the jokes is similar to those found on the playground of a 6th grade recess. Although I found the humor to be lacking maturity, the style and timing in which the humor was brought into the play was perfect. It relaxes the audience, and allows the deeper issues to have a greater impact on the viewer.
Teatro Buendia tackles some complex issues that face the citizens of Cuba. I found the moment in the play where a lady talks about how her brothers and those that supported the Revolution have now deserted her and turned their back on them since the Revolution began to fail. Wow. To me this moment and those words were meant for an audience in the United Sates. The brothers and sisters in Cuba, who escaped the failing revolution that they originally believed in, came here to The United Sates. Our United States government supported the Revolution, but now has turned their backs on the Cuban citizens. The actress was playing a French woman in 1793, but could have easily been any Cuban in 2010.
The quality of acting and chemistry between the ensemble members is outstanding. The characters in the play have a sense of hopelessness, loneliness and desperation, but the play expresses this while still being decorated in beauty and raw emotion. The music is moving in itself. The culture within the actor’s voices and the amazing beauty in Ivanesa Cabrera’s powerful opera style singing translates the feelings behind the songs into any language. The electric guitar and rock ‘n’ roll music did not seem to fit with the rest of the show, but overall the harmony within the ensemble enhances the play’s emotional atmosphere.
After the play, standing on stage for their standing ovation, the cast stood proudly in front of us with tears rolling down their poised faces. Emotion in the room grew, and the applause only came to a silence when the cast began to sing to us. They sang with such sincere feelings that I myself had tears slipping from my eyes, even without understanding one word being sung. A stirring ending that I won’t forget. I feel extremely lucky to have seen Teatro Buendia perform.
Reviewed by Timothy McGuire
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $28, playing Thursday through Sunday, July 15th through July 18th.