'Idiotas' offers few brains

Spanish theater production's complex plotlines offer engaging, though unsatisfying, experience

The University Spanish department’s production of “Idiotas contemplando la nieve,” translated as “Idiots Contemplating the Snow,” last week marked the 32nd year of Spanish theater at the University of Virginia.

In “Idiotas,” several unfortunate plotlines intertwine, drawing attention to the universality of financial and interpersonal problems. Ramsés struggles to get money for his mother to visit her sister, while Elvis scrambles to find a job that will support his large family. Meanwhile, Josefina pressures her husband to build her a nice bathroom and Sarita tricks her older boyfriend into giving her money, claiming she needs it for an abortion.

More lies surface when Bernardita, claiming to have cancer but really needing cash for a new coffee machine, conspires with her half-brother to steal their half-sister’s beloved fish for ransom. Predictably, the schemes lead to ruin. By the end of the play, the flimsy lies unravel and several characters die tragic, overdramatic deaths.

Spanish Theater Group’s production was under the direction of Spanish Prof. Fernando Operé, a longtime theater director. Beginning in 1981, professors, students and alumni of the Spanish Theater Group have performed Spanish plays written for a North American audience. The group has previously presented plays written by iconic Hispanic playwrights like Federico García Lorca and Enrique Jardiel Poncela. This year’s production was scripted by the young and innovative Alejandro Ricaño.

Born in Xalapa, Veracruz in 1983, Ricaño studied theater and earned a drama degree at the University of Veracruz. He gained widespread respect within the Hispanic community for his dark humor and focus on life in middle-class Mexico. “Idiotas” delivers the mix of wit and realism that Ricaño enthusiasts expect.

While Ricaño’s multiple storylines kept “Idiotas” engaging, the ending was unsatisfying. At the culmination of the play, the characters look up at the falling snow while the narrator muses, “Had it snowed to cover that warped and maladjusted world to which they hadn’t managed to adapt, at least for a moment? Maybe. Or maybe, they wonder, the world had decided to mend itself, starting by dismantling the sky.”

To balance the tragic plotline, Ricaño infused the story with well-placed jokes that hinged on the common cultural understanding of his Spanish-speaking audiences. While Ricaño’s humor sometimes provided comic relief, it often felt discordant when juxtaposed against the serious circumstances of the show. The tension between laughing at an overblown fight scene and cringing at a character’s untimely death seemed unnatural and borderline disrespectful.

Ultimately, however, the presentation of Spanish plays for a multicultural audience is cause for celebration. “Idiotas contemplando la nieve” gives audiences unfamiliar with Spanish theater the opportunity to appreciate its nuances. Despite its dark plot, “Idiotas” is worth watching to digest a humorous slice of everyday Mexican culture.

Published February 13, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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