La Razon Blindada
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
24th Street Theatre
Through October 15
La Razon Blindada, Argentinian playwright Aristides Vargas’s soulful, songful play (performed in Spanish with English captions) now in revival at the 24th Street Theatre, concludes with a dedication “to those who find their dreams unjustly encircled by walls.” The playwright also pays tribute to two authors whose ideas inspired the piece — “Cervantes, for demonstrating that there are no walls that can hold back the power to imagine,” and “Kafka, for signaling that all walls lock in a nightmare.”
Vargas first conceived this play after listening to the stories of his brother Chicho, one of the many artists and intellectuals rounded up and imprisoned during the oppressive and murderous regime in Argentina. (Vargas himself narrowly escaped to Ecuador ahead of the arresting military). One technique the prisoners used to salvage their sanity was to tell each other stories to escape into their own imaginations. Directed by Vargas, the play revolves around two such men (Jesus Castaños-Chima and Tony Durán, reprising their roles from the LA Weekly award-winning production 7 years back) who meet for one closely monitored hour every Sunday, where they are admonished on pain of severe punishment to remain seated and keep their hands on the table before them.
During these hours, the pair adopt the names and piecemeal identities of Cervantes’s famous characters, De La Mancha (Castaños-Chima) and Sancho Panzo (Duran). Their interplay isn’t a straightforward enactment of Cervantes’s narrative, however; the dynamic between them is made more complex by the inclusion of themes from a short story by Franz Kafka, The Truth About Sancho Panza. Variously interpreted, Kafka’s story allows for the possibility that the entire Don Quixote narrative may merely be a figment of Panza’s imagination, created to keep his own demons at bay. Vargas’s dense text is additionally layered with ontological ruminations and incisive lampoons of power and politics and their abuse.
While its many tiers make the text hard to grasp in its entirety at one sitting (or even two or three), the production, with striking theatricality, rises to the challenge. The mournful opening sees the performers, behind a scrim, plod slowly in silhouette to the strains of Fauré’s Élégie for Cello. Later, intoxicated by their fantasies, they bolt and spin across the proscenium like maddened clowns (all the while remaining seated in their chairs, which are equipped with mobile wheels). A contagious combustible mix of paranoia and exuberance takes hold as they act to squeeze and savor every drop of life they can from the precious hour they have with each other.
Though Castaños-Chima delivers a smart and disciplined rendering of a man seeking refuge in a fantastical world of his own making, it is Duran as Panza who best encapsulates the dualities the play seeks to convey. No matter how daft he appears, how many realms of fantasy he indulges in, some part of his Panza stays aware of the prison walls that surround him. His fear and his humanity are palpable, and as we glimpse his awareness of his plight, we sense a bridge between his experience and our own.
24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th Street, L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 p.m., through Oct. 15. (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.