By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Distant Star presents a group of Chilean poets living through the overthrow of the democratically elected Salvador Allende, and its consequences. Some of them, as well as friends and relatives, become among the “disappeared.”
It is “a harrowing tale of fascism and its aftermath.” “This eerily relevant drama weaves [the author’s] memories of life (and death) under Augusto Pinochet’s American-backed dictatorship…” This is from the promotional material and would that I’d seen the play here described. Would that the play were as clear and focused as the material describing it.
Poetry is sometimes called a distillation, but here are seven poets in need of an editor. They ramble on, and on, and on.
It should be noted at once that the cast is heroic, some inhabiting multiple roles, although the woman playing the man is not for a moment believable as a male. These performers are acrobats and gymnasts who literally climb the walls. All should be recognized: David Skeist, who does much of the heavy lifting, serving as narrator; Anne Gridley; Luis Moreno; Laura Butler Rivera; Jon Froehlich; Tania Molina and Yaremis Félix.
There are a number of insightful lines. One character is described as undaunted by coherence. This describes the disjointed work itself. Until late in the second act there is no trajectory. When the focus is on Carlos everything starts to coalesce. At the end, when this killer and torturer is tracked down, he is spared, ignored. The police aren’t called. Why? Because he’s a better poet than the others? “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord”? Forgiveness is a virtue?
Whether in religion or psychology there must be confession/admission, repentance/contrition before there can be absolution/forgiveness. But Carlos has not expressed remorse, yet he is not called to account.
There are screens on two sides of the theater. Frequently they simply reflect what the audience is seeing on stage. On occasion they are gruesomely effective—after the slitting of a throat. Sometimes they are hardly relevant, as when the final touches are put on what appears to be a delicious cake. And sometimes they’re simply distracting.
Oh, the chasm between concept and execution! Here is a wealth of raw material crying to be shaped and polished. It needs a Lorca. “The play’s the thing”? Not this one.
The Abrons Arts Center is presenting the work, produced by Madeleine Bersin.
Distant Star is Caborca theater company’s production of the adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s splendid novel written by Javier Antonio Gonzáles, based on the translation by Chris Andrews. The work was co-conceived and directed by Shira Milikowsky; sets by Jian Jung; lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; costumes by Sarah Cubbage; sound by Bozkurt “Bozzy” Karasu.
It should be noted that staff members of Abrons Arts Center are exceptionally courteous, cooperative, sensitive and knowledgeable.
A final thought: There is material about the novel that is available to theater goers. The headline reads “Who Will Tell the Tales of American Fascism?” Yet the play doesn’t stress that the coup that toppled Allende was American backed.
Photos: Marcus Toledo
Distant Star will run through Oct. 1. The Abrons Arts Center is at 466 Grand Street
The play is approximately 2 hours long and has a 10-minute intermission.