El Conquistador! A brilliant, funny, wildly theatrical show about Latin American soap operas (telenovelas). Thaddeus Phillips (who created this with Tatiana Mallarino and Victor Mallarino), is the only live actor onstage (if you don't count his beloved potted plant). He plays Polonio, a poor Colombian farmer who goes to the glamorous big city and becomes a doorman for an apartment building called Nuevo Mundo.
Considering that the show begins in 1492, and then skips ahead 515 years, the whole idea of "New World" is slyly politicized, and further complicated when one of the building's tenants (we see them through the intercom camera each time they call the doorman) goes to a costume party dressed as Christopher Columbus. As we get to know the tenants, each of their lives starts to sound like a soap opera - long lost twins, brutal romances, mysterious packages delivered. Then their stories intertwine, both with each other and with the play we're watching.
The interactions between film and stage are so complicated, so funny, and so spectacularly precise that Phillips can walk around a corner and walk into the film projected on the screen. Shot in Bogota with actors who are actually telenovelas stars, the interplay of illusion/reality is intriguing visually and narratively. It's all in Spanish with surtitles, which, surprisingly, poses no problem whatsoever.
The set (the multi-talented Phillips again) shifts astonishingly from rural hut to taxi cab to swimming pool with the tiniest adjustments. The hilarious sound design (Jamie McElhinney) adds to the fun.
This is exactly the kind of show the Live Arts Festival is for - don't miss it!
- Toby Zinman
Marx in Soho. Iron Age Theatre's Marx in Soho has been touring for six years, but this is the first time the Norristown-based Iron Age has presented it in Center City. Starring Robert Weick as Karl Marx returned from the grave (although he keeps glancing upwards toward some communal heaven), his mission is to harangue us, bore us, stupify us into realizing that 150 years after Das Kapital, capitalism is still the life-destroying evil it was in the heyday of the Paris Commune. Well, yeah, but how is this news?
Written by Howard Zinn, this evangelical sermon is like talk radio for lefties. The performance - full of newspaper waving and manifesto thumping - is also filled with vowels that wander from Philly to fake British (what happened to German?).
This is clearly intended as an homage, but it struck me as an unintentional expose of the political icon: Marx is revealed to be humorless, prudish, anti-Semitic, anti-English, contemptuous of his friends and allies (Bakunin, Proudhon), angry at the generosity of Engels, and exploitative of both his wife and daughter, whom he saw only as extensions of his own genius. What a guy.
- Toby Zinman