Teatro fresco

Teatro fresco

Rubicon debuts first Spanish-language production

By Jenny Lower 11/01/2012

The actors in the Rubicon’s latest production don’t speak English — at least, not on stage. What’s more, they don’t even stand, instead swiveling and dancing and flying with the help of wooden chairs mounted on wheels. It’s a departure even for a company that has won awards for pushing artistic boundaries.

La Razón Blindada, or The Armored Reason, written and directed by Argentine playwright Arístides Vargas, kicks off the Rubicon’s 15th anniversary season, Our Town/Your Theatre. The all-Spanish production will play with English supertitles through Nov. 11.

The selection grew out of a months-long strategic planning initiative driven by theater staff and members of the local community. In the wake of the recession and downsizing to pay off debt, “We had become a little insular,” says Karyl Lynn Burns, Rubicon’s producing artistic director. They debated how to reach out to a community that includes a large Latino population. Enter the Our Town season, in which each play carries some significance for the local area.
La Razón was inspired by the life of the playwright’s brother during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. While Vargas went into exile in Ecuador, his brother Chico was captured and sent to Rawson penitentiary in a remote corner of Patagonia. Each Sunday, he and other prisoners were allowed out of solitary confinement for one hour of socializing. They used the time to act out stories to forget their surroundings, but were forced to remain seated, hands on the table; otherwise, they would be shot.

Originally developed in Ecuador, where Vargas still lives, the play first came to the U.S. in 2010 through L.A.’s 24th Street Theatre, where it won L.A. Weekly’s production of the year award. In the theatrical version, two prisoners meet weekly to re-enact the tale of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ legendary delusional hero who signaled the end of Spain’s chivalric period. The play also draws from Franz Kafka’s The Truth About Sancho Panza.

De la Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima) is the heavy-hearted knight-errant, while Tony Duran, who plays  his counterpart Sancho, fills a multitude of other roles — the beloved Dulcinea and her bullying father, the nag Rocinante, even the dog Toribio. But the heaviness that surrounds them is never far from their minds.

For Chima, whose first language is Spanish, the tale of confinement offers a welcome chance for liberation. “In English, I’m always worried about my pronunciation because it’s not that good. With Spanish, I feel like a fish in water,” he says.  

24th Street Theatre, which has remained involved by producing the Rubicon version, struggled for years trying to serve its largely Spanish-speaking community, says Jay McAdams, executive director. After initial success, members realized they’d created “this apartheid,” with whites and Latinos attending separate shows.

Determined to integrate their audiences, 24th Street brought in Chima, who advised them to bring food. They started offering complimentary pre-show tamales and projecting Spanish supertitles. Overnight, the houses changed. “We could see brown and white, rich and poor, Eastside and Westside. It was just a beautiful tapestry,” says McAdams.
Rubicon is keeping the food tradition by passing out empanadas from an Oxnard bakery at the door, and including a free tequila tasting with one performance. Whether these efforts will bring in new faces remains to be seen. But for Burns, at least, the show represents an artistic triumph.

“Anytime there’s want or fear, people tend to sort of hunker down. The temptation is to shrink our perspective,” Burns says. “But that isn’t why we do theater. Sometimes we have to shake ourselves awake.”

La Razón Blindada at the Rubicon Theatre, through Nov. 11. 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. 805-667-2900, rubicontheatre.org.

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