Lora Arias: El año en que nací/The Year I Was Born

Lora Arias: El año en que nací/The Year I Was Born

How do you create a play that addresses horrific real-life events when many of both the perpetrators and victims are still alive? Argentine playwright Lola Arias, using an approach similar to that of Colombian filmmaker Victor Gavíria, brought together actors whose own lives were directly affected by said events. Through a workshop process, these young people’s personal accounts were woven into a larger narrative. In this case the history is the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile, and the stories the young actors tell form a highly personal exploration of a brutal history. The effect is visceral and nearly overwhelming.

Though this may sound like a description of a disjointed scrapbook piece, the finished product—El año en que nací (The Year I was Born)—comes together as a polished, fully realized and visually impressive theatrical work. Like many productions these days, ample use is made of audio-visual elements; a projection screen is prominent in many scenes. But in this case the projections are not coming from some unseen hand but are being created there, onstage; their creation is part of the action on stage. At one side is a large worktable at which the actors take turns busily placing maps, family photos, newspaper clippings, personal letters beneath the camera, underlining and circling points that reflect what is being said as the actors take it in turns to reveal their stories. Crossing out eyes, blocking mouths, writing a single word across a photo: “Silencio.”

Historical radio broadcasts crackle overhead, describing the events of the day that President Salvador Allende was removed in a bloody coup. The actors, portraying their parents or younger selves, stagger around staring upward in disbelief, shuddering as the sounds of jet fighters roar past. They hug each other, cry, try to escape. At one point an actor begins urgently scribbling in his notebook to illustrate his story, as another actor hovers over his shoulder with a small video camera to let us watch his simple drawings emerge onscreen. The interweaving of live actors and the projected images they are creating and referring to forms a compelling choreography.

Across two hours’ running time, the play never lags: details emerge and the actors begin to interact more based on what they are discovering about the others’ families’ activities during the Pinochet era. (Recall that among them are children of Pinochet supporters, including police and military officers.) At the end some bring out their own children for a kind of coda which ends in a hair-raising guitar-thrashing piece. I don’t know how closely the show as presented at the MCA will match the video I saw of the Santiago production, but the ending sequence there was beautiful and absolutely devastating. This is important and brilliant theater.

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Marc Littau. Writer, teacher, and theater artist based in Chicago. 

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Lora Arias: El año en que nací (The Year I Was Born)
January 23 – 26, 2014 at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Buy tickets onlineâ�¨ or call the MCA Box Office, 312.397.4010

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