BACK STAGE WEST
April 30, 1998
PARADE OF STRANGE IMAGES
at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
With a title like Parade of Strange Images, a production promises a lot in the visual department, if not in dramaturgy (parades, after all, are not known for narrative form). Unfortunately, this U.S. premiere production of Argentine playwright Carlos Pais' play under director Margarita Galban doesn't deliver much of either.
For this static story of an aged stage star holed up in her presumably dilapidated manse with only liquored memories and a gruff maid for company, Estela Scarlata has designed a clear, spare set that is little more than serviceable; only a pair of rickety wooden doors at stage left, leading off to the sanctum of the boudoir, suggests the kind of decayed splendor in which we are otherwise encouraged to imagine the once-famous Violeta Echag e (Alejandra Flores) now languishes. And apart from a few sadly blowsy numbers for Violeta and one knockout dress for a tangoing ghost, Carlos Brown's costumes are unexceptional.
For its part, Kathi O'Donohue's lighting effectively shifts the play's gears, opening up the space with sidelights to establish Pais' central conceit, from which the title comes: Whenever Violeta is left alone, her portrait of Carlos Gardel, a real-life crooner of the 1920s and '30s, comes to life (in the person of Agustin Coppola, a good sport who must stand still and smile through most of the show) so the delusional ex-star can reminisce with him about the old days, and a few dancers come in from all sides to strut portentously, in Marcos Questas' choreography. We're inside Violeta's addled brain, see?
But there's not much to see there, and the trick itself gets monotonous. And even though each act ends with some first-rate tangoing by these ghostly figures, made all the more spectral by Alejandro Scarpino's crackling bandoneon, these seem tacked-on flourishes. Mainly, the phantoms are there to suggest the decades-old trauma of her daughter's political "disappearance," a disgrace doubled by Violeta's denial of its reality, and a particularly sore point for her loyal maid (Margarita Stocker), whose feelings for both Violeta and the daughter have clearly wrecked her.
Of course, that's all backstory; the play's only dramatic action occurs midway through Act Two, when a fiercely impatient, dark-browed man (Juan Carlos Malpeli), ostensibly a newspaper reporter, arrives as expected. But even his part in the proceedings is deeply tangled in the past. The effect of all this backward-looking is a tiring, wallowy evening, despite the extraordinary efforts of Flores, in an uproariously ugly hunchback performance that suggests a cross between Norma Desmond and Albee's "A," and of the reliably stoic Stocker (also the show's best dancer, with the elegant lead of Questas). Malpeli comes off a bit wooden, though not without splinters; he seems capable of formidable force and bite, but, like the fine artists of the BFA and this production, he doesn't connect with it here.
"Parade of Strange Images," presented by and at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights. Apr. 24-May 31. (213) 225-4044.