Autobiographical Theatre in Argentina
Julie Ann Ward
Friday night. Lola Arias’ Mi vida después (My Life After). La Carpintería Teatro, Buenos Aires. A group of grandmotherly women in fur coats and heavy perfume claims the first rows. The stage manager’s request for silenced cell phones is met with a loud “No!” from a woman with a wrinkled face and sleek, black hair, part of the front-row contingent. The lights dim and another of her party cries, in English, “Silence!” provoking giggles and shushes. From the back comes a censorious, “Por favor,” to which one of the dowagers replies, stage-whispering, “¡Es en serio!” Finally, clothing begins raining onto the stage, and the show begins.
Mi vida después debuted in 2009 and has made festival rounds as well as having runs at two different theatres since then. In the play, six actors, one joined by his young son, wear their parents’ clothing, display and interpret photographs of their families and use other objects (books written by an actor’s father, cassette recordings of another’s voice, a live turtle, etc.) to evoke the stories of their parents’ lives. Their parents include an ex-priest, revolutionary militants, a newscaster, an automobile journalist, bank clerks, a secret policeman — all of whom lived during, if not through, Argentina’s military dictatorship. The play, which features professional actors and their real-life stories, is a thought-provoking study of the limits of the self, authority and authorship and the role of theatre in society.
The characters introduce themselves by describing the circumstances of their births. Blas Arrese Igor, for example, born September 8, 1975, declares: “La nave Viking despega hacia Marte y en la ciudad de La Plata, nazco yo. Mi padre había sido cura y decía que no era parte de ningún partido político salvo el de Dios.”(The spaceship Viking blasts off for Mars, and in the city of La Plata, I am born My father had been a priest, and he said that he belonged to no party save that of God.) Besides playing themselves, each actor, at some point during the play, embodies his or her parent, whether it be through trying on their clothes, reading their letters aloud or physically going through the motions peculiar to that parent. Carla Crespo leads her fellow actors in exercises her father might have participated in as a sergeant in the People´s Revolutionary Party; Liz Casullo wears her mother’s jacket and reports news from the 1970s, just as her mother did as a newscaster for “Telenoche.” The play must be considered autobiographical, as the actors are, for the most part, playing themselves and telling their stories from their own perspectives. However, this crossover into the realm of their parents’ life stories questions and blurs the limits between the self — the actors, and the Other — their parents.
One particularly interesting moment in the play is when Vanina Falco tells of how her adult brother discovered he was not actually her biological brother. Rather, he had been born in a secret detention camp to imprisoned parents and was subsequently stolen and raised by Falco’s parents. He has taken on his birth name, Juan Cabandié, and Falco’s father has been tried for the crime and found guilty. Vanina Falco wanted to participate in the case against her estranged father and was initially barred from doing so by a law prohibiting testifying against an ancestor. However, this ruling was appealed and overturned, due to the fact that Vanina Falco has effectively no relationship with her father. Part of the evidence contributing to this legal decision was the fact that she has made public her family experiences through her participation in the play.
The play’s text has evolved as this court case has developed. In Mi vida después, Falco sits on a sofa, and the other actors gather round, going through legal documents as she tells the story. She explains that she was the first person in Argentina to be allowed to testify against a parent and that part of the reasoning was that she discusses the case in a play. This moment is powerful for its dizzying circularity — in the theatrical performance that affected the court case, the actor discusses the court case that was affected by the theatrical performance… The spectator is thrown into the position of legal judge as well as being forced into acute awareness of the theatricality of autobiography, the performance that is any life story. The lines between theatrical testimony and legal testimony are blurred, and the frontier between performance and reality is subverted altogether.
The evolution of the play, whose constant dramaturgy is undertaken these days by Sofia Medici, is what allows for such surreal moments. Mi vida después is not a static work, but rather a living exposition of life stories in progress. The selves portrayed are fluid, ranging between parent(s) and child, and the play itself adapts to the actors’ changing reality. Just as the lines between self and Other are blurred in the play, and lines between legal and theatrical testimony are entangled, lines between autobiographical narrator and author are also blurred. Even though the actors play themselves, speak in the first person and tell true stories from their own lives, they are not considered the authors of this piece. Lola Arias’ work interviewing the actors and then compiling, selecting, editing and arranging their stories gives her authorship and authority over the actors’ autobiographies. This blurring of so many lines invites the viewer to question autobiography as a genre, highlighting the impossibility of setting the self in type.
At the end of the play that Friday night last June, one of the previously rambunctious ladies in the front row turned to her friend, who was seated in front of me, and declared more than asked: “A vos no te gustó por la política.” (You didn’t like it because of the politics.) The confirmation was unnecessary, but her friend nodded in agreement anyway. To my thinking, what disquiets the viewer of Mi vida después much more than any political aversion is the way the play pulls back the curtain on the workings of autobiography and dares to question the very idea of the self.
Lola Arias: http://www.lolaarias.com.ar/
La Carpintería Teatro: http://lacarpinteriateatro.wordpress.com/
Clothes begin raining down on the stage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkkzTeauia8
Sofia Medici: http://www.alternativateatral.com/persona23218-sofia-medici