Argentine theater auteur Mariano Pensotti has staged performance pieces on a Cologne train station platform, on the sidewalk of a Buenos Aires street and inside a boxlike “movie” set on which actors “reproduced” scenes from Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film, La Chinoise.
At REDCAT, beginning tomorrow, Pensotti is presenting The Past Is a Grotesque Animal, his kaleidoscopic spin on the lives of four Argentineans following the collapse of the country's economy in 1999. L.A. Weekly discussed the production with the director via email.
The Past Is a Grotesque Animal follows the lives of four young Argentineans during the decade following the tumultuous collapse of Argentina's economy in 1999. Can you describe the creative genesis of the piece?
It's a bit weird but around 10 years ago I started to collect damaged photos that a photo lab near my home would throw away each month. When I started to work on The Past, I went back to look through the damaged images that I'd collected. Some of them seemed to be people from my own generation — some kind of faulty chronicle of a decade. I decided to take some of those photos and try to re-create the spirit of the 19th-century novel, in which ambitious fiction is contained within a precise historical and temporal framework, [in this case] telling the stories of four characters of my generation over 10 years. … Ultimately the play deals with the idea of how we can retell the past in the present.
The most sensational formal aspect of the show is that it is staged on a constantly revolving turntable set. What did this choice bring to the material?
I always try to have sets that work not just as a decoration but also as a narrative mechanism. I'm also interested in setting my plays in a context that might affect the body of the performer as well as the perception of the viewer. In the case of the revolving set, conceptually it is clearly related to the idea of the passage of time — one of the main themes of the show — time that never stops. … And additionally it creates the visual impression of a long dolly shot from a movie.
What was the process of developing the piece like?
Well, the script was already written before the rehearsals but originally it was a much longer version — the text itself is a bit more similar to a novel rather than a traditional play — and I worked a lot in collaboration with the actors during the rehearsal process to find the final version. The staging concept was also defined in advance, but I usually work with the same creative team and I like to discuss ideas with them from day one, even before a text is fully written. What's interesting to me is that at the end it is difficult to say what was first or what is most important, the text or the stage idea or the work with the actors. Each part becomes as important as the rest.
Does The Past Is a Grotesque Animal's use of a traditional play script in a traditional theater space represent a departure from your site-specific work?
I would say that even if it seems formally quite different from some of my site-specific performances, being a stage play, The Past Is a Grotesque Animal is conceptually really close to my previous creations anyway. … When I started to do performances, I first presented stage plays. After a few years I started to need something different, another approach to art and life, and I explored that through site-specific performances. Somehow those experiences changed my perception of reality and my way of writing and working with the actors. In The Past Is a Grotesque Animal I wanted to take some of the things I discovered by working in public places and use them in the context of a stage play.
In the past, you've invoked the writings of the Marxist theorist Paolo Virno. Would you describe yours as a “political theater?”
I think it's not political in the sense of trying to directly bring urgent conflicts of society to the stage; I'm not especially interested in that kind of work. But it's strongly political in the sense that I do have the intention that my plays might transform the perception of reality.
The Past Is a Grotesque Animal plays with English supertitles at REDCAT, Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 26. (213) 237-2800, REDCAT.org.