A”The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” – Dante
ll theater is political.
Theater companies that avoid political subject matter have taken the first misstep toward their own political stance. Their silence legitimizes the hackneyed yet ever-popular claim that theater is solely for entertainment.
Unmoved by that argument, rabble-rousing theater company Teatro Del Pueblo hasn’t shied away from bringing back its Political Theater Festival for the third year. The no-holds-barred forum promises to resurrect political discussion and whip all pacified and docile minds into shape. Or perhaps shock some of them into thinking.
Four short plays compose the festival and focus on topics as far ranging as an exiled Cuban writer’s return home to hunger strikes.
This year’s festival also includes two additional nights of political poetry, film and multidisciplinary performance art.
Al Justiniano, Teatro Del Pueblo’s artistic director, said in an e-mail interview that the festival’s origins took root while he was visiting Wicklow, Ireland. Local residents impressed Justiniano with their knowledge of American politics.
“They even knew the number of electoral votes of many states, including Minnesota. As our world gets smaller we will need to understand what makes other countries tick. What better venue than theater to start the process of learning the art of political conversation in a safe environment?” Justiniano said.
The festival’s environment might be safe but the subject matter isn’t.
Emiliano Silva, a Chilean playwright and member of Trece Lunas Arts Collective in Minneapolis, has taken part in the political festival for the last few years.
His contribution this year, “The Myth of Metamorphosis,” takes place deep in the Colombian jungles where ideologies are used as weapons.
Left to rot in a prison cell is Mario Bolivar (Gama Adame), a commander in the Colombian rebel group FARC, (the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) who has been detained for his Communist sympathies. Imprisoned with him is Rosalinda Parks (Jennifer Mauricci), a human rights observer, who, misunderstanding Colombian politics, continually asks for her lawyer, encouraging cynical laughter from Bolivar.
The audience resides in the cell with these stark opposites. Silva’s dialogue makes no effort to sugarcoat the material with symbolism or allegory. The gritty narrative shuffles between Parks’ naivety and Bolivar’s morbidity and indifference while addressing issues such as the cocaine trade and death squads.
But it is Armando Paredes (Shad Cooper), a soldier in a Colombian paramilitary group and the prisoners’ tormentor, who foregrounds another aspect of Silva’s intentions.
The U.S. military trained Paredes at the School of the Americas to become the cold-blooded individual he is. This tie with the U.S. government helps link the oppressor Paredes with U.S. foreign policy.
Silva stresses that everything he writes about is political. He sees politics as not limited to voting and the “legal framework of the institution and state.” His play, and the Political Theater Festival at large, offers a platform for these ideas to play out without censorship.
“I come from the Latin American tradition where (politics in theater) is a given. When you go to the theater you expect someone to shock you or criticize, or make a strong radical statement,” Silva said.