Royal Lyceum Theatre
4 stars ****
ACCORDING TO Jorge, the troubled hero of this brilliant new play by the young Chilean writer-director Guillermo Calderon, his country reminds him of the month of December. Chile, he says, is full of “sad celebrations”; and Calderon’s bitter and hilarious 80-minute comedy is set during one of them, a dismal Christmas Eve get-together involving Jorge and his twin sisters, both of whom are pregnant. The year is 2014, Chile is at war with neighbouring Peru, Jorge is home on leave from the army, and his sisters are involved in a bitter political dispute. Trinidad is rebellious, left-wing, internationalist, and determined to help Jorge desert from his regiment; Paula has become increasingly patriotic and nationalistic, affirming the racial superiority of Chileans over all other South Americans.
What’s striking about Calderon’s play, though, is the profound note of despair that drives the comedy. If Calderon shares Trinidad’s scorn for the stupidity of militaristic nationalism, he cannot believe in her vision of a joyful revolutionary future. And as for Jorge, he has stopped hating the war, because within it, he has found a love between men that means more to him than anything else on earth.
Performed in Spanish with English supertitles awkwardly placed on either side of the stage, the play requires the audience to read fast, as well as watching the action, particularly during the three raging monologues that form its climax. The sheer youthful force of the acting, though, is moving and memorable, a masterclass in loud, hard-edged family comedy moving towards tragic political surrealism. And if the theme of Jonathan Mills’s 2010 Festival was New Worlds, then this final play shows us a world not new enough; still plagued and made barren by hatred and war, and by dividing-lines between nations that amount to little more than lies, writ large not only on our maps, but in our minds.
Until 4 September.
EIF p. 33