BAiT (Buenos Aires in Translation)
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
November 4, 2006
Under the direction of Vallejo Gantner, P.S. 122 seems to have enhanced its tradition of presenting thought-provoking international work and edgy risk-taking performances. As part of their Buenos Aires in Translation (BAiT) Festival, Women Dreamt Horses by Argentinean playwright Daniel Veronese, directed by the imaginative American Jay Scheib, has made an impressive debut on the New York City scene.
The play tackles issues like global and domestic violence inserted in Freudian dreamscapes, and wrapped in the little red package of a relationship drama. Three brothers and their wives meet for a dinner party, but they never get to the food or the drinks as they move around the room discussing such things as sweaty horses, surreal memories, Turkish pilaf, or a stolen cookbook. Almost each line hides (more or less) a heavy sexual symbolism boiling in simmering violence:
RAINER: With that last take, from behind the horses' haunches, with the horses wobbling sensually over the cobbles, you might get the idea that the horses are the reason for the woman's getting all excited. That what's provocative about the situation are the sweaty horses and not the policemen. And it has certain logic.
ULRIKA: You think?
RAINER: Yes. It's a known fact that adolescent girls dream about horses when they begin to develop sexually. I mean it seriously.
ULRIKA (containing her violence): Would you bring in that damned corkscrew, please.
Why to bring a child into such a violent and messy world?—is arguably the main question raised in this play by Veronese.
Jay Scheib, one of the most cutting-edge artists of the moment, takes the Argentinean's lines and pushes them into the physical world using a sexy and violent gestural vocabulary. The actors literally fight in the performance space; the brothers' and couples' main interaction seems to be boxing, they "smash" themselves against the walls and against each other. It's a fascinating tour-de-force for the actors in this show, and the bruises on their legs are not painted. It is obvious that the ensemble is completely committed to the director and the production.
Scheib's world is indeed violent and frightening, but also humorous in an unexpected way. The long opening scene with Lucera (the extraordinary April Sweeney) vomiting again and again is anthological. Zishan Ugurlu as Bettina, a woman 15 years senior to her husband, seems to be the center of this dysfunctional family. She is tragic and funny at the same time, especially when she describes their marriage: "And I understood then that that's what the two of us are. All that together, the rice, the onion, and the asparagus. Even though we each have a different flavor, we complement each other." Aimee Phelan-Deconinck is impressive as Ulrika, the sensual sexually frustrated wife of Rainer (Eric Dean Scott). Caleb Hammond and Jorge Alberto Rubio invest lots of energy in portraying the other two brothers.
Oana Botez-Ban's costumes help in defining each character with precision, imagination, and wit. It is always great to see costumes with personality in a show, not just outfits meant only to dress but designed to infuse extra meanings.
And it is rare to see such a tough, passionate, powerful, and beautiful show on NYC scenes so I urge you to go catch it. Leave your fears aside and be prepared for gunshots and bodies wriggling onto the floor or jumping over the tables.