Reviewed by Will Stackman
A monodrama by Columbian screenwriter, Humberto Dorado, originally entitled "Con el Corazon Abierto", (With an Open Heart) was part of an international arts festival in Bogota in 2004. This English language version, given an interpretive title, "The Keening" has the same director, Nicolas Montero, as the original. His production is easily the most powerful dramatic presentation seen here this year, thanks in part to a carefully restrained performance by Marissa Chibas, who along with her professional accomplishments, is Head of the Acting Program at Cal Arts. Dorado's script is essentially a narrative attempting to capture the political turmoil of his homeland for the last half century as seen by one seemingly ordinary woman. Thus "The Keening" is not so much a drama as an epic, stylistically similar to a John Irving novel recounted in the first person.
Briefly, the story traces the life of a young woman who marries her town's doctor, an older man. After his death, she discovers the first of several secrets which form the basis for the action which have her by the end of the evening, providing burial services for the disenfranchised, for those who need ceremony that the Church can't or won't provide, using what was the morgue of the hospital her husband ran. Indeed action starts with her swabbing down the entire stage getting ready for the next wake. Mexican designer Alejandro Luna has created a simple setting with interesting details which make effective use to Zero Arrow's black box, plus integral light behind a transparent wall upstage. Chibas' carefully chosen costume, with accessories, is the work of the ART's David Reynoso. The whole evening has a ceremonial air resulting from very careful preparation by all concerned.
The current title, perhaps chosen to reflect the funeral nature of the piece doesn't reflect the spirit of the main--and unnamed character--that well. While it describes the profession she's fallen into, it may not be imaginative enough to capture the spirit of the piece. Chibas' performance is remarkably direct, speaking to an audience beyond those seated around the thrust stage. She creates a character that has been through so much, suffered levels of betrayal, and mourned for so many strangers, that the tragedies of her life have become life, and she goes on. It would be easier to play the role more dramatically, but such an approach would quickly wear thin, moreover untrue to the complex survivor onstage. This piece isn't the wailing of Greek tragedy, but the more distant attitude of Brecht, where the horrors of life need to be observed not embraced. Catharsis is only a secondary intention here. Anger is probably preferred.
The ancient Athenians decided that tragedy should not employ events that had happened in living memory, but the modern world seems to relish atrocity as a background, as long as it happened somewhere else. South America remains somewhere else, and the turmoil which has bedeviled our neighbors to the South, seldom makes the news. The final events recounted in this piece occurred in 2001. We are coming to recognize the increasingly poisonous nature of political violence subsumed under the meaningless rubric "terrorism," but have ignored and in fact encouraged such blatant inhumanity close to our own shores. We also seem to be engaging in it ourselves. As Malcolm X said, "The chickens come home to roost."