As you find your place amongst the stadium seating of the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, and look out at the proscenium stage where five normal furnishings sit, tethered by ropes attached to pulley above, there is no telling what to expect. There is a warning of dust used in the lobby and the audience tricks in slowly, making curtain a good twenty minutes late. But the house eventually goes to half, then black. Figures magically appear on stage. And the dream, and the nightmare of Cesar Brie’s El Un Sol Amarillo begins.
El Un Sol Amarillo is the Teatro de los Andes’ theatrical examination of the deadly earthquakes that pummeled two Bolivian villages after midnight on May 22, 1998. Suffering a 5.9 scale quake, followed minutes later by a 6.8, the homes in the village of Aiquile and Totora where all but decimated, killing more than 80 people, many of them children who were sleeping when the quakes hit. Dozens were buried alive in homes made from traditional adobe bricks.
Both communities were mountainside-farming villages where getting help to those on need was a trying task. Each member of the company’s quartet took turns relaying stories of eyewitness accounts. When the actors are not portraying the survivor within the testimonial, they are often the element itself, the dirt, the wind, the earthquake, playing mercilessly upon the soul trapped within it.
The testimonials were hauntingly visual as each survivor described being trapped, or buried alive, or fleeing for their life and the lives of their loved ones. The incredible stories of the survivors are intensify with the acting out of each tale, dodging flying tables and swinging doors. And suddenly we know what the ropes are for: to symbolize how tenuous and unstable each moment of the ordeal was for the quake victims.
Following the quakes, many people leave their village for other towns, with their remaining family, with the promise from the government to rebuild, and with the hope that their pilgrimage will be temporary. Brie’s script also focuses on the abuse the village people endured at the hands of their “rescuers”. While supplies were coming, the army pillaged them before they could reach the destinations that needed it the most. Woman, and mothers who were destitute without the army’s help we also at the whim of the soldiers who delivered the supplies.
Brie reserved the humor of the piece to the ironic. From the reporter who runs around the stage with a microphone asking silly questions for the victims, to the government who enter the ravaged region only to make things worse, to the litter of politicians who enter the land promising whatever they think the survivors want to hear, it is hysterical and sad how the supposed rescuers are in fact opportunists and abusers.
Powerful is a grand understatement for this production of El Un Sol Amarillo. This company of actors captures a tangible despair and desperation in the voices from the Bolivia earthquake of 1998. Their precise ensemble performance created a wildly vivid experience of the tragic event. The shocks of light within which the actors performed were an extremely effective device to convey the isolation of the night and the claustrophobia of being buried alive. Punches of a single music cue loosely define the end of the different stories. With the exception of a few songs sung in Quechua, the show is entirely in Spanish. English super titles were projected on screens over the stage. So non-Spanish speaking audience will spend a good portion of the hour-long show trying to keep up. Nevertheless, the passion and images on stage below require no translation.
El Un Sol Amarillo (Memorias de un temblor) will be running at the Kirk Douglas Theater now through Nov. 25, 2007.