THEATER | At Teatro del Pueblo’s Political Theatre Festival, even the dead talk politics

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Those who produce political theater aim to engage with their audiences in a profound way. This is no small task, and very few productions manage to successfully accomplish it. Teatro del Pueblo intends for their Eighth Annual Political Theatre Festival to provide a venue for Minnesotans to broaden their knowledge of Latin American social issues—but when artistic director Alberto Justiniano urged the audience to put aside personal views and open our minds, he might have warned us that we were opening our minds to a crudely executed production.

political theatre festival: series b, presented by teatro del pueblo through march 1 at intermedia arts, 2822 lyndale ave. s., minneapolis. admission $15. for information, see teatrodelpueblo.org.

The first act in Series B, R.I.P. by Joese Martinez Queirolo, is the story of a recently deceased husband and wife (Paula Weakly and David Schlosser) who discuss their situation while lying on two tables in a funeral parlor. The wealthy couple died while traveling in Latin America and are complaining that they are not in the comfort of their elegant European home. The play critiques class biases by dramatizing how the couple looks down upon the lesser-developed country they are visiting. They are portrayed as materialists as they argue over who caused the car accident that occurred on their way to a fancy formal affair where they were planning to show off their outfits. The acting is amateurish and stifled by cutesy dialogue.

La Autopsia by Enrique Buenaventura is about a doctor (Luis Enrique Sanchez) who is struggling over having to give his own son an autopsy. Sanchez gives a nuanced, emotional performance in this act, which is entirely in Spanish. His wife (Maria Sarmiento) acts as a sounding board for his frustrations, and her performance is also passionate, but perhaps a bit over-sentimental. The problem with this act is that the director (also Sanchez) chose to keep the actors glued to two chairs. Given the intense subject matter, the play would have been greatly improved by movement around the set as the characters, especially Sanchez, work through a difficult personal dilemma.

The third act, Dominic Orlando’s Rio Bravo, tells the story of a rancher (Alejandra C. Tobar-alatriz) and a member of the Texas Minutemen (Seth Patterson) who are at odds over the issue of patrolling the Texas border. These two have an interesting dynamic together and Patterson is compelling as a blindly patriotic American. The play takes an abrupt turn from their debate when the sheriff (Christine Weber) asks the audience to offer opinions and help her solve the situation. The actors do a good job getting members of the audience to talk about immigration issues. They remain in character during the discussion, which is sometimes amusing, especially when Patterson makes jabs about audience members’ pro-immigration points of view. While this might be an effective way to get the audience talking about the issues presented, we’re eventually left to deduce for ourselves what happens between the characters—after the group discussion, the actors leave the show hanging and walk off stage.

“Theater of the people”—the English translation of Teatro del Pueblo’s name—is a genre used primarily to give voice to people suffering from oppressive situations. Although many mishaps throughout the three acts in Series B kept my attention away from the political issues at hand, this company deserves credit for attempting to engage their audiences about important issues.

Amy Danielson (danielson.amy@gmail.com) works full-time in public relations for the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota.

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