“The city is a human creation reflecting its actors,” Gabino Rodríguez says, midway through Asalto al Agua Transparente (in English, The Assault on Clear Waters). It’s not a particularly earth-shattering statement, but it rings true for both the content and the form of this satisfying production, which was the second TBA offering from young Mexican theater collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol. (Alas, both productions have now closed.)
Asalto al Agua Transparente weaves together sweeping history with compelling personal narrative. Without overburdening the audience with details, Lagartijas founders Rodríguez and Luisa Pardo recount 700 years of struggle for water around Mexico City—where there were once 770 square miles of lakes, less than four square miles remain today. It’s a massive history but a relatable and relevant one, provoking questions about sustainability and illuminating the human folly of pie-in-the-sky urban planning. Alongside the historical facts and statistics about life in modern-day Mexico City, Rodríguez and Pardo tell a quiet but poignant story of two urbanites straining for connection.
As the narrative moves between the past and the present, the historical and the political become personal. Rodríguez and Pardo sometimes deliver the historical details in a combative manner, but it’s argument tinged with sadness and longing rather than aggression. The label of “actor” feels insufficient for these two: They convey a level of immediacy and honesty I’ve rarely seen onstage. Rather than portraying fictional characters, they seem wholly themselves and wholly trusting of each other, which in turn puts the audience at ease. In a noontime artist talk at PICA on Wednesday, Rodríguez and Pardo discussed this approach. Why, Rodríguez asked, do we assume that events within a theater are lies or fictions? Why, essentially, do we equate acting with lying?
That’s a big question. Fortunately, Asalto is far from dogmatic. It’s also a great deal of fun: Rodríguez and Pardo inhabit a delightful set, which they dismantle, reassemble and ultimately trash. They play with wooden produce crates, pushing them over like dominoes at one point and later unzipping the chain in a movement that reminded me of a tumbling Jacob’s Ladder toy. Pardo drops a box of bottle caps over her head. Rodríguez washes his hair onstage. With these visceral and unexpected actions, the stage becomes Rodríguez and Pardo’s city: a creation that reflects the immediacy and sincerity of its actors.