Of Self-allienation and Other Monsters Feb 10, 2012

by Carla

The line between fiction and life becomes blurred as creation, re-creation, and the metamorphosis of oneself continues throughout the years. Argentine author and theater director Mariano Pensotti has created more than fifteen performances in the past ten years, among them El pasado es un animal grotesco ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’. On a rotating round stage, we dive into the lives of four characters beginning on June 22nd, 1999. Mario (Santiago Gobernori) is an aspiring musician/ filmmaker who keeps imagining ways to escape his mediocre and defective life. Vicky (Pilar Gamboa) has just discovered many photos in her father’s drawer evidencing another parallel family in the countryside, including a daughter of her same age. Laura (María Ines Sancerni) is packing and leaving her family to travel to France; as she does so she records her own voice “el futuro es un vacío y hay que arrojarse a él” (the future is a vacuum and you have to throw yourself into it). Pablo (Javier Lorenzo) is a marketing student; on this particular day he finds a package outside his door as he is leaving for school; inside is a severed hand that hunts his life for the next decade.

The rotating stage becomes a kind of time machine in which an omniscient narrator, alternatively personified by the actors, tells us the story of these four people in a yearly¬–yet not monthly–chronological order. As a moment in a character’s life is represented on stage, the narrator offers a commentary on the situation, sometimes adding details about the future beyond the moment we see.

Laura’s romantic relationships become entangled and detangled by the moment’s affairs or social issues. Her boyfriend Esteban cheats on her with Lora, a French roommate who, for a second, Laura thought to be a better version of herself. Throughout the play Pensotti returns to how we comment on our own existence, see ourselves in other people, and portray in them the best of us, or even the way we should have been. Back in Buenos Aires Laura’s Palestinian boyfriend Hassan of two years, is tormented by the intifadas (uprisings between Palestine and Israel) and therefore decides to return to his homeland, leaving Laura depressed.

Pablo still works in marketing and throughout his career and love affairs, the severed hand resurfaces in his mind. Is it his own hand? Will it someday be his head instead of a hand? Even when his job takes him to Brazil to work on a TV ad, and his romantic life starts to take shape, he is overwhelmed when casting the doubles of actors’ hands for the commercial. Upon return to Buenos Aires he falls in love with a woman that is missing an arm. After almost ten years, Pablo finally finds out why he received a severed hand, at which point he writes and writes like he did when he was younger, only he does so with the severed hand. What direction would Pablo’s life have taken if he had never received the hand? “Uno es la mezcla de lo que es y lo que pudo ser y no es” (one is a mixture of what one is and could have been and isn’t).

Vicky agonizes and stalks her father’s other family. She tries to confront her father, but decides to immerse her existence in the rural life. After years of random relationships, she reestablishes her relationship with her father and finds peace. Filing boxes labeled with years past frame the round stage. These boxes could be filled with any object that encapsulates memories and represents a grotesque–at least estranged–version of the past (photos, the withered flower of a past love, scribbled notes in old napkins, a comb bought in a foreign country). 

Mario writes scripts and tries to get them into film contests. He forges a signature on his recommendation letter and lies at interviews in the attempt to get further in the industry. After breaking up with his girlfriend Dana, who reproaches him that their relationship has become a lie and merely fiction, he travels to Hollywood and Madrid. Yet Buenos Aires is where he finally finds success. Once his life has somewhat settled, a Japanese production commissions him; his film is autobiographical and played by an all-Japanese cast. As he watches it, alienation and grotesque feelings simmer inside him as he takes a look at his own past and finds it unrecognizable. 

Filled with comical pauses such as a parody of Julia Roberts, the excellent performance in El pasado es un animal grotesco is refreshing to the eye and the ear, and should not to be missed. It will keep playing through February 12, 2012.

Carla María Negrete Martínez