Playwright-director César Brie and the Teatro de los Andes theater company from Bolivia have based their performance piece on a series of interviews they conducted with survivors of the devastating 1998 earthquake that struck the cities of Aiquile, Totora and Mizque and surrounding agrarian communities. I don’t mean to sound stone hearted in saying that episodes of shock and grief, as children are buried in sand and rubble, sound like commonplace sagas of woe — as does the indignation at how relief supplies and international funds got siphoned away by local distribution agencies. (Portrayals of local government officials are like commedia villains.) Even we insulated and self-absorbed Americans recognize how much can go wrong when fire and flood strike us, and what that says about human nobility and corruption, working side by side. The collage of testimonies (performed in Spanish by Luca Achirico, Daniel Aguirre, Gonzalo Callejas and Alice Guimaraes with projected English translations) hangs on the spine of the quake, the departure of refugees from Aquile, and their eventual return to a city that’s a shadow of its past. The beauty of this production lies in its skeletal theatricality, in the faces of the refugees upon their homecoming, staring into the audience. Without a word, we imagine what they see. Gonzalo Callejas’ set contains furniture pieces dangling on the ends of rope pulleys, door frames and tables and jingle and jangle as the rumble of the quake sounds from a sand-filled drum. An actor sprinkles sand into the figure of a child on a tabletop — the table gets turned on its side and the child dissolves onto the floor. This is the power of theater emanating from its most elemental source. The lament, the fury and their ensuing beauty are unimpeachable. Teatro de los Andes, Center Theatre Group and the International Latino Theatre Festival of Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 13-16 & Nov. 22; added perf Nov. 19, 8 p.m.); thru Nov. 22. (213) 628-2772.
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—Steven Leigh Morris