KPBS AIRDATE: January 19, 1994 >
Cuban-born Maria Irene Fornes is a juxtaposer par excelence; in her abstract, non-linear plays, fantasy and fatalism walk arm in arm, as do cruelty and tenderness, satire and extreme seriousness. Her plays may be viewed as dramatic collages, bits and pieces of a story, a life, a relationship, that the viewer has to help to make into a whole. “The play,” Fornes has said, “is there as a lesson, because art is ultimately a teacher.” When she herself directs her pieces, they are highly stylized; every move is choreographed. Her work is not always easy to watch — or to do. The quirky and indomitable Fritz Theatre has tackled a tough one, and they’ve done a pretty masterly job.
“The Conduct of Life” concerns military cruelty in Latin America. There is the macrocosm outside the play, the control of a whole society. Inside, onstage, there is the microcosm, one man and his household, in which he is the dictatorial ruler, controlling and disparaging his wife, maligning the housekeeper, raping and beating and feeding and reciting poetry to a young, poor child off the streets. “Man must have an ideal,” says the sadistic Orlando. “Mine is to achieve maximum power. This is my destiny…. I must no longer be guided by my sexual passion or I will be degraded beyond hope of recovery.” And so he is, as we watch, sometimes in awe, often in horror, the dissolution of a household, the often helpless hopelessness of a people, characters that could be symbolic, could be in any country. The inextricable link between sex, power and violence is unfortunately not unique to any one society. The play is frightening and disturbing because it is so intense, so brutal, so painful to watch. It’s personal and political. Factual and feminist. Daring and depressing.
All of this is captured by director Karin Williams and her very capable cast. Duane Daniels is positively terrifying as Orlando, a monster at home, being swallowed up by bigger monsters (governmental and military) at work. The women around him — movingly played by Beverly Delventhal, Mimette Ehrenfreund and Raechel Nina Oster — are strong, but powerless. No one, not even the youngest or the most idealistic, is pure. This muscular, harrowing production paints a bleak picture of a dark, familiar world, where only violence counters violence.
Violence features prominently in “The Show Host” as well, but there are laughs there, too. The universe created by Venezuelan playwright Rodolfo Santana is also familiar. It’s a world where television shapes reality, and where one dissatisfied viewer decides to reconfigure that reality. The obsessive, disgruntled Carlos kidnaps Marcelo, the General Manager of the local television station, and at gunpoint, forces him to re-enact the game shows, the commercials, the soap operas, so they come out honest, positive, and precisely the way Carlos wants them.
Marcelo is dragged to a chicken coop — and there we sit, in the midst of chicken wire, straw and even live poultry, as the action takes place all around us. The piece is sometimes frenetic, often funny, frequently harrowing. We all know the TV-demented Carlos and the manipulative Marcelo, a slimy sellout who’s as much under the gun at work and at home as he is in this chicken coop. Both men are forced to re-examine their lives in Juan Pazos’ entertaining translation of the play. Director Pazos keeps things moving at a rapid pace and his actors only get better as the play goes along. Better, more frightening, more outrageously real. Tony Rose and Larry Baza are dynamic. With this show, Pazos, the new artistic director of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, wraps his first season. He’s adding something wonderful to our community.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.