Villa + Discurso
After watching these two short plays, it is possible to believe that one has gained a deep understanding of the politics of Chile today. This is a compliment to writer / director Guillermo Calderón, who uses an unorthodox theatrical form to delve into Chile’s recent history.
Anyone who doesn’t understand Spanish will have to work hard, as these are both plays built on rapidly spoken words translated into excellent but rapidly flowing surtitles.
Villa starts somewhat mysteriously as three young women, all named Alejandra, take a vote on an unspecified but seemingly inconsequential subject.
Having come to an inconclusive result, they discuss the way to arrive at a solution and eventually agree to debate the issue rather than coming to a definitive decision.
A discussion about whether a space that formerly contained a villa should be turned into a museum or used again for a reconstructed version of the villa might have been of little moment.
That would have been the case but for the history of the building. This was used for many years by the former, repressive regime as a torture chamber akin to an equivalent operated in the Holocaust.
This is brought out to terrifying effect by the trio of women, usually tangentially, as they argue over the future use, referring along the way to the horrors perpetrated and going through the kind of heated conversations that must have taken place in connection with the Ground Zero memorial in New York City.
There is a final revelation which guarantees that this 70-minute work will haunt viewers long after they leave the theatre.
The shorter second play has four actresses, this time all playing the same person, Chile’s President from 2006-2010, agnostic former paediatrician Michelle Bachelet. They are Francisca Lewin, Carla Romero and Macarena Zamudio from Villa plus the considerably older Sonia Mena.
This time, the stream of words comes as the ex-President tells varied versions of her own story, some clearly invented to make political points.
Over the 40 minutes, we learn much about a Socialist who comes over as more New Labour than old, in British terms.
Once again, the horrors of the Pinochet regime are brought into stark focus with remembrance of the murders of both of Michelle Bachelet‘s parents. They are also used to justify political infidelities which led to the kind of capitalist economics that do not normally figure in countries pursuing socialism in a committed fashion.
Like Villa, this play is visually static but makes up for that with the power of its portrait of both the woman and the country that she led.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher