Lola Arias’ El año en que nací (The Year I Was Born)
, whose run at the Time-Based Art Festival
closed last night, has been getting rave reviews. Mine won’t be the exception. But I have to say the obvious: I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I spoke Spanish.
The play, directed by Lola Arias, recounts the true stories of 11 Chileans who came of age during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. At a microphone, they tell their stories one at a time, while other performers illustrate the narratives through multimedia presentations—photos and letters projected onto a screen. At the same time, other members of the cast play music or draw with chalk on the ground. There’s a lot going on, especially for non-Hispanophones, who must look at a dimly lit screen above the action in order to read the supertitles. Watch the actors too closely and you’ll miss what’s said. Worse, in one scene, the performers climb a ladder, thus blocking the screen with their heads. You think watching foreign films is hard? This was exhausting.
But the message permeates regardless of language. The history lesson is useful for those whose public schools skipped the chapter on modern Latin America. The personal accounts are interesting, too; the letters and photos the performers have chosen to keep highlight which stories are most important to them. And that’s the best part of this show—that Arias is telling real, tangible stories. It’s refreshing, particularly in the context of a festival like TBA. You could be across town, contemplating the gender dynamics of twisted wrought iron, or you could be here, learning about events that affected a generation.
The play's weight doesn't belie its entertainment value. The stories unfold colorfully, with creative staging and props. A favorite tool is the lineup game, in which the performers order themselves according to things like their parents' political ideologies, economic status and skin tone. They bicker about each other’s placements in a way that shines light on how Chile’s political climate has affected social life.
Throughout, Arias uses other flourishes, such as song-and-dance numbers, that can come off as amateurish, though perhaps intentionally. The acts are all cute in a Brady Bunch kind of way, but they're not nearly as impressive as the show’s core message. Then again, I’m not complaining. After two hours of frantic reading, I was glad to come up for air.