La Razón Blindada
By: Arístides Vargas
Directed by: Arístides Vargas
Los Angeles Theatre Center (Los Angeles, CA) - 2017
La Razón Blindada (2017)
by: Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez
La Razón Blindada (The Armored Reason) written and directed by Argentine playwright Arístides Vargas, translated into English by the author, is a two-person show that was performed by Jesús “Chima” Castaños (De La Mancha) and Tony Durán (Panza). The production was a restaging of a touring version that traveled throughout the U.S., Mexico, and South America and it received the LA Weekly “Production of the Year” award in 2011. The performance discussed here was staged at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) as part of the Encuentro de las Americas theater festival in November of 2017, the play was presented in Spanish with English supertitles. It brought together elements from some of the most famed moments in Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Franz Kafka’s “The Truth about Sancho Panza,” and testimonies from political prisoners held in Rawson Prison during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s.
Set in an undisclosed political prison, the play uses only the most basic mise-en-scène to tell its story: a projection screen, two chairs, three tables, and a few lighting cues. Yet through this minimalist approach the play creates a surreal 80-minute, one-act dark comedy that transports the audience into a permeable universe in which time and space melt into each other, via lightning-quick set changes, furious movements, and razor-sharp word play. Vargas, an Argentinian exile, drew inspiration for this staging from his brother’s experiences as a political prisoner where he reported being confined in solitary, and only being permitted a brief respite on Sundays when prisoners could meet and talk, and only while remaining seated and with their hands atop of a table. So too the actors remain seated throughout, circumnavigating the stage on chairs equipped with casters. The characters are two political prisoners based on Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, who stage scenes and stories from Cervantes’s Don Quijote to entertain each other and pass the time, in a prison where time has no meaning.
The play begins with a rolling choreographed dance punctuated by facial expressions, consisting of little more than quick glances as the two actors glide into their weekly ritual: a Sunday ritual that offers them a temporary escape from their cruel reality. Staged to hold an almost frenetic pace, the play does not pause until the characters note the approach of prison guards and their panoptic eyes. Even so, these pauses become caesura to a virtuosic visual score. Both actors
hilariously characterize familiar moments and figures from Quijote, including Rocinante (Don Quijote's horse) and his swift greyhound. In this way, the pair use their loosely-assumed personae to tell stories that overlap and spill into each other—as the playwright’s life, Don Quijote, the world of the play, and Cervantes’s life weave in and out of the story. In only one awe-inspiring example of the way the play liquefies time and space’s solidity, we have a scene lifted from the original text, of Quijote promising Sancho an island for him to rule as a reward for his faithful service. This island will be populated by Black inhabitants, who as de la Mancha demonstrates, will play drums, and ware lip discs. Though absolutely racially-problematic, this moment is not singularly so, since to omit it would sanitize the original source material and occlude the long standing colorism present in Latino culture. The fact that Sancho’s reward is to dominate over tribal, non-“modern” Black people is a necessary though uncomfortable acknowledgment of both the historical and current occurrences of racially-charged representations. Though the sublime nature of this moment may not be obvious or readily available, it more than any other illustrates the power of theatre.
It is a little-known fact that Miguel de Cervantes was imprisoned as a slave for five years. Though his capture by Barbary pirates and subsequent imprisonment is often cited, his enslavement is not, despite the fact that in his work he returns again and again to his captivity in Algiers. This experience would lead Cervantes to conclude that no person who gives themselves over to enslaving others, of whatever faith or nation, has anything but a cruel and insolent nature. This, coupled together with the established connection between prisons and slavery, problematizes a dismissive approach to this moment and the play in general. The implication of slavery (actual and metaphorical) as a phenomenon is much more prevalent and stealthier than usually portrayed. Indeed, the characters may be clowning dangerously close to the edge of the permissible, but it is this clowning that frees them (and the audience) from the shame and powerlessness of enslavement.
For a recording of a 2005 production, click HERE.