The Aluna production of La Comunión, currently running at Buddies in Bad Times, is a powerful and moving script that blends elements of political theatre with vivid impressionistic dreamlike narratives that subtly and beautifully tell the story of a country ravaged by war.
In her program notes, award-winning playwright and director Beatriz Pizano says that she would “like to thank other Columbian survivors of kidnapping, massacres and forced displacement who have generously shared their stories.” She goes on to say “we all agree on something fundamental: WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN WAR.” Pizano eloquently concludes by saying, “For this reason, in La Comunión you will not see a gun, imagined or real.” Confronted in the first act with an onstage murder by a revolutionary who must betray friendship by killing a traitor that she knows personally, the audience is presented with a superbly acted and technically executed moment of violence that is both moving and powerful, due to a lack of naturalistic onstage brutality.
And this is where the strength of the play lies. The subtlety with which Pizano’s script and direction bring these stories to life is both powerful and life-affirming. We are moved toward a double-edged ending that speaks directly to an audience of relatively privileged North Americans, who often hear about war but rarely imagine it as a daily occurrence on our streets or in the countryside surrounding our cities.
The cast is uniformly superb with highlights including Micheline Calvert’s portrayal of Fatima. Calvert magically inserts, with almost dancelike movement and lilting speech patterns, an elegant, at times comic, pathos that infuses the script with the tragic sense of memory and death that becomes a way of life for the child soldiers who often devote their lives to the liberation of a country torn by internal and external influences. The use of sur-titles for all of the text, written in two languages, enhances the movement form Colombia to Canada and back again.
A complex plot — confusing at first — is skillfully unravelled by the end, thereby creating a suspenseful narrative that achieves a fine balance between great political theatre and powerful drama.
The subtle homoerotic scenes that occur between the central female characters reflect the impressionistic quality of the script, evoking a dark, dreamlike quality. Although some of the exchanges could use a little more sexually infused physicality, this technique reflects both the misogyny and homophobia that marks the cultural milieu these women are trapped within. Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Michelle Polak, Rosa LaBorde, Marilo Nuñez and Natalia Naranjo manage to create both political and emotional passion within their roles, sustaining them as female characters intent upon bringing justice to their beloved homeland. Pizano’s writing captures the nuances of both love and hatred as they commingle in the bodies of women struggling to empower themselves as daughters, friends, revolutionaries and potential lovers. Sam Malkin, as the journalist, and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, in dual roles as Lenin and Ernesto, present a very effective male presence in a play that finds its heart within strong and courageous feminine prowess.
One scene uses a staged example of forum theatre, whereby a small podium is constructed in the middle of the stage, and a brief scene between revolutionaries is enacted for a group of very young, potential soldiers. When a young woman from the onstage audience is brought onto the tiny dais, the brutal power of systemic misogyny is portrayed effectively, as it is used as a tool to attract adolescents disempowered by both sexual and emotional abuse. One of the most powerful questions that La Comunión asks is whether it is better to remain powerless at the hands of men or to take arms against both dominant gender and global culture at the same time. Frequent references to the power and money of the rich gringos who manipulate the fate of an entire disenfranchised nation reveals the privilege of North Americans to be part and parcel of the oppression of poorer countries.
In a world marked by Avatar-like narratives that tell simplistic stories decoratively drenched in overwhelming technology and benevolent presidents who remind us that we are at war when a failed terrorist attempt rocks our world on Christmas Day, La Comunión is a powerful and complex reminder that our privilege too often depends upon the suffering of others. La Comunión also suggests that the difference between terrorism and organized war relies upon the wealth — or lack thereof — of the participating parties, and that this distinction is too easily manipulated and created by oppressive military forces. The questions that Pizano’s script raises are both courageous and timely. La Comunión, in its final utterance, through the voice of a very young and conflicted woman, asks us to listen and to act.