Striptease Into the Trip to Bahia Blanca
nytheatre.com review by Pete Boisvert
July 19, 2008
As the audience gathers before the show, we are told that the performance of Striptease Into The Trip To Bahia Blanca begins immediately upon entrance to the theatre. Moving into the darkened space, a figure is vaguely discernible. A woman sits onstage wearing sunglasses and an exotic hat, holding a bouquet of flowers awkwardly to one side. Above her is a projected video image of an unblinking eye, staring out at the audience. An audio track plays a quiet cacophony of voices, guitar music, and various bits of sound collage.
The evening proper consists of two one-act plays by Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro, both of which center around the character of an actress. We begin with The Trip to Bahia Blanca, where a diva basks in the glow of a successful performance.
Clutching her congratulatory bouquet she chats with the audience, offering a story about six passengers traveling on a train, en route to the Bahia Blanca station on the Argentine coast. One of the passengers remains silent throughout the trip, much to the consternation of the other five. They try a variety of methods to engage with their taciturn traveling companion.
As the actress relays this story to us, she is repeatedly interrupted by an unseen fly. She veers back and forth between the story of the train's passengers and her threats toward the irksome pest.
Gradually, as the passengers' frustration grows, their methods escalate into cheerful violence. Amidst debate of the effectiveness of the Spanish Inquisition, they proceed to amputate the man's limbs with a blowtorch. Meanwhile, the actress takes to attacking the fly with her bouquet, thrashing the flowers until they are a limp handful of stems.
After a brief return to the multimedia collage from the beginning of the evening, we are presented with Striptease, in which we meet another actress. Her days of playing ingénues having long passed, she is nervously waiting to be seen for an audition. She clutches an envelope of out-of-date headshots and regales the audience with a stream-of-conscious monologue wherein she frets about her declining desirability, her abusive domestic relationship, and her fears of aging. As she waits to be called in to her audition, she flits nervously from chair to chair, trying to find the most attractive way to present herself.
The monologue is periodically interrupted by a young production assistant, or "underling" as the actress thinks of him, who silently intimidates her and proceeds to steal her belongings. He begins by taking her envelope of photographs; soon he returns for her shoe, a cape she has self-consciously borrowed from a friend, and then violently, one of her earrings.
Negra (as she refers to herself) seesaws wildly back and forth in demeanor, cravenly accepting these violations while in the boy's presence, while fuming about her treatment in private as she limps around the stage on her one remaining heel. As it becomes clear that the role she is auditioning for is less than wholesome, she puts up an initial resistance. The silent intimidation of her tormentor gradually grinds her down, and she ends the piece abjectly, preparing to remove the rest of her clothing and resignedly crying out for her abusive lover.
Director Oscar Mendoza maintains a strong sense of alienation throughout the evening. The hypnotic pre-show draws in the audience and lulls them, but at a full 10 minutes long it eventually outstays its welcome. As dark as Gambaro's material is, any sense of horror or dread is muted throughout by physical and vocal abstraction. Sarah Doudna's performance in The Trip to Bahia Blanca is particularly stylized. As she ricochets back and forth from the train to the fly she burbles at us throughout and maintains statuesque poses showcasing her bouquet of flowers. Barbara Mundy fares better in Striptease, delivering a three-dimensional (if slightly pathetic) portrayal of an actress past her prime.