Argentine poet and playwright, Alberto Adellach (1933-1996), places the characters of Cordelia: From Town to Town at the crossroads of life and death, and their journey along the way denotes the universal struggle of the human condition and the quest for a place in the world. While Adellach sets his play in Argentina, during the political and social upheaval of the late 1960’s, Director Carlos Barón, Associate Professor in the San Francisco State University Theatre Arts Department, makes certain that his translation/adaptation promotes a universal time and place, while spotlighting the cyclical nature of history and the connective tissues of the world. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, Cordelia is a tragedy laden with morals and missteps, and with the opportunity for growth and speculation. Like Lear, these opportunities and morals are tragically willed to the audience.
We follow the “actors,” “Lear,” “Cordelia,” and the “Fool,” who meet up with Gloster, a blinded, cynical professor, and his hippy Yippie guide, Edgarda, as they journey from town to town, witnessing and falling victim to injustice, poverty, oppression, violence, and the literal and figurative rape of the individual. Like Shakespeare, and like life, Barón also knows when to insert moments of comic relief, but perhaps the most wonderful part of this production, aside from encouraging the audience to think, is Barón’s ability to take the audience on a journey from town to town. This notion of “movement” is firstly accomplished by rearranging construction of the set design before our eyes (set design consists of a bevy of decorated boxes, each side appropriately designed according to the town they represent). A live musical score, composed by San Francisco State Master’s candidate Damián Núñez, creates notions of emotion, depth and speed to accompany each scene and scene change, and finally, all of this couples with the simple action of the players overtly exiting on one side of the stage and then entering on the other, emphasizing the journey taken.
Music is a big part of this production, and this is a cast who sings. The icing on this cake is the fact that these student-actors are passionately hungry for the stage. There are times when either instrument drowns out voice, or when the action of singing in unison ends up devouring the words—this is unfortunate, as each word in this play is layered with import and meaning—but when the timing’s right, it’s like watching the cast of Fame belt their hearts out for the possibility of stardom.
Antonette Bracks as Cordelia achieves the musical highlight of the production, and her song, “Cordelia’s Rape” is reason enough to purchase a ticket to this show. Bracks reaches into the deepest, most melancholic depths of her soul and draws out a moment in time that is tragic and transcendent all at once. She uses her entire body to express her pain, and heartbreakingly attempts to right the violations done to her by incessantly adjusting the appearance of her colorful smock. Her pain is vivid, and her voice, haunting. Cordelia represents the survival-factor, as well as the need to take a chance, take a stand—to make a choice and have a voice, no matter the consequence. With this, she is the most real, most admirably human character in the play.
The Fool, played by Albert Silao, is in love with Cordelia, and the two have a sweet, teasing, sibling-like relationship. Silao offers a genuine portrayal of a fool in unrequited love. This is not Shakespeare’s wise Fool; rather, Silao is wide-eyed and big of heart, and even explains that prior to being cast as the Fool in a production of King Lear, he was the town fool, apparently a victim of “typecasting.” This notion of art imitating life seems to be the case with many of the characters in the play.
Although the blinding of Gloster, played by Corbin Went, is by all means a tragedy, the real horror is that as a professor of philosophy, he is perhaps the only character in the play with the ability to grasp the gravity of the human condition, but his cynicism and his inability to participate in the world around him, except to blindly lash out with a stick, leads him to check out and take the metaphorical journey westward. Gloster is blinded for the crime of self-expression, and in his case, having a voice leaves him senseless and on a Sisyphean quest for death. Alexandra Miller plays Gloster’s guide, Edgarda, also referred to as “Garbage.” Miller is hysterical as the dropout hippy philosophy student of life, but she’s also a tragic character on a constant quest for her next drug fix. Her nickname is ironic to her role, as “Garbage” serves a purpose as Gloster’s guide, but also plays his foil during his many attempts at suicide. While there’s something oddly noble in Gloster’s search for death, in that he wants to accomplish the feat himself rather than be killed by another, his inability to commit to either life or death extinguishes his nobility for the sake of tragedy.
Bracks plays Cordelia as a youthful, playful, somewhat naïve girl who in moments of discomfort, raises her arm in the air and gives a little spin while singing the childish tune, “Y tu-ru-ru-ru-ru-ru.” This survival tactic seems learned, as “Lear” has a tendency to run lines when reality is too much to bear. Michael Saarela takes on this monumental character with the maturity of a seasoned actor. It’s important to understand that this is not Shakespeare’s character that we’re watching; rather, Saarela is playing an actor who played Lear at one point. He is now traveling from town to town for the opportunity to be an actor and to play a role. Inevitably, he is an actor who is not permitted to act, or metaphorically speaking, a human whose rights have been denied him. Saarela rages with the storm, and cradles Cordelia as he recites Lear’s final words, “No, no, no life./Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,/And thou no breath at all...” and although I could not see this moment because of a tragically placed box hindering my view, I still dusted my eyes at the end of the war-torn scene, which Adellach sets in Cordoba—the geographical center of Argentina—during the student and worker uprising of 1969. Barón, however, plasters the backdrop with contemporary propaganda, and gives the actors guns to shoot the enemy. The “Cordobazo,” as it was called, ended tragically. Cordelia ends before we reach this moment in history, but her song still haunts the stage and inspires the individual to consider the human condition that affects us all.
“I close my eyes
Because I want to see
A world that’s not around me.
I shut my ears
Because I want to hear
The song that lives inside me.
And now I am raising my voice…”
Cordelia: From Town to Town, translated, adapted and directed by Professor Carlos Barón, runs April 8-12 at the Little Theatre located in the Creative Arts Building on the SFSU campus, and continues its run at SOMArts Cultural Center, located at 934 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA. April 17-18 at 8PM and April 19 at 2PM. Tickets are $10-$15. (415) 338-2467. Visit http://theatre.sfsu.edu/node/324 for more information.