Monday, September 24, 2012

Life or Fiction? Walker Art Center’s final “Out There” show is refined, engaging and teeming with (gasp!) real life

“A life  becomes fiction.”
When applied to the current ‘mega fiction’ staging at the Walker, truer self-descriptors were never spoken.
The Past is a Grotesque Animal, the final play in the “Out There” series, is a darkly comic display of life as fiction and fiction as life. It combines real and autobiographical elements, as well as a thread of improbability that almost reaches mystical realism.
The best way to describe The Past is a Grotesque Animal is as a fast-paced quadruple helix. The show’s four actors slowly wind the plot’s DNA together in their portrayal of multiple and subtly linked characters, whose lives converge through witty narration.
Plotlines follow every aspect of each character’s life, from personal relationships to work to home. Most of these are starkly ordinary, showing the ebbs and flows of romance, job transitions and moving between apartments. Like the great Italian neorealists of post-WWII cinema, Buenos Aires playwright Mariano Pensotti makes these ordinary happenstances appear extraordinary by putting them under a 10-year microscope.
The Past is a Grotesque Animal’s greatest strength lies in displaying the moments of clarity the characters experience in the gray areas of their lives, when they are transitioning (out of a 10 year relationship, living between countries, after a death or a miscarriage or a suicide attempt) into a new realization of themselves and their purpose. Realistic scenarios show each of us how hard it is to look back and feel our lives unlived, to enjoy our existence after monumental loss, or to fear our futures (but without any of the pain of us having to experience it ourselves).
Undoubtedly the most compelling and weird narrative follows a man named “Pablo,” who discovers a severed hand in a box at his doorstep. Pablo is unable to decipher why and how the hand arrived, but it becomes as fundamental to his life as his job or his girlfriends (I won’t spoil the unbelievable things he does with said hand when he gets drunk, but be assured it is unexpected).
The entire show is performed in staccato Argentinean Spanish. Subtitles are projected on both sides of the stage, and while they are helpful aids for non-native speakers to grasp the script’s nuances, I urge any attendees to take a break from reading and watch the performers. They are lively, expressive and perfect in their roles, and I hope they find their way back to the Twin Cities to perform again.
If you are a squeamish viewer, be warned that this show makes no attempt to ‘clean itself up,’ and unapologetically depicts profanity, sex, masturbation, and more. But don’t be put off- many of the most heartbreaking and funny scenes are found in these “dark” or “sick” moments.
The Past is a Grotesque Animal is a marvelous show, one of the liveliest I have seen in a while. It is refined, engaging and teeming with (gasp!) real life, which can often be lost in the glare of a spotlight. It’s a spectacular way to end the Walker’s “Out There” series and a must-see.
+ Mariano Pensotti's “El Pasado es un Animal Grotesco,” continues at the Walker Art Center through Saturday, Jan. 28. For more information visit