Dallas — Feather and the Tempest (Pluma y la Tempestad) is a 1995 piece written and originally directed by the talented exile Argentinean playwright Arístides Vargas and his company from Quito, Ecuador, Malayerba (the word means wild weed, as in the kind the stubborn variety that cannot be easily destroyed). The Grupo de Teatro Malayerba was founded in Quito in 1979 by Arístides Vargas, Susana Pautasso and María del Rosario 'Charo' Francés, immigrant actors to Ecuador originally from Argentina and Spain. Francés, a Spaniard, and Vargas make a gifted spousal team. Vargas’ exodus from Argentina was provoked by a dark chapter of Argentinean national history—the period of political violence and repression during the military coup commonly referred to as the Dirty War (la Guerra Sucia) from 1974-1989. The company is well-known throughout Latin America and Europe for its Brechtian aesthetics, commitment to inclusionary casting and socially conscious topics.
Their laboratory functions as a live-in training internship for anyone who aspires to a life in the theater. This total living immersion allows would-be theater workers to learn every aspect of production from the ground up within a trusting collective living situation. Migrations, political hypocrisy, violence and collective national memory are some of the issues explored in their non-realistic, oneiric style. I had the privilege of seeing several of this company’s memorable original productions during various International Hispanic Theater Festival of Miami; 2015 marked its 30th anniversary, the same as Teatro Dallas. Both are committed to their mission to preserve Hispanic culture and language in the United States.
Cora Cardona’s admiration for Vargas’ work is evident by the numerous TD productions throughout the years: Maiden of the Used Books (2011), Our Lady of the Clouds (2004), The Octopuses’ Garden (1996 as part of its International Theater Festival and performed by Malayerba), and El Rincón de los Amores Inútiles/ The Corner of the Useless Loves (1994).
Sara Cardona has played an instrumental role as translator of Vargas’ work into English. This is not the first time I tip my hat to Sara. Her previous translation of Vargas’ Maiden of the Used Books (TD production 2011) is a jewel. Sara Cardona allows Vargas’ poetic language to float into our consciousness, astounding us with images such as that of the old prostitute, poignantly portrayed by Grisel Gambiasso, who collects the names of places where her clients have been and saves them in a shoe box full of memories that are not hers. “Causes here die of malnutrition,” she says, while urging male Feather to flee from this inhumane place (the brothel, the nation).
While the initial scenes of domestic violence between Mother (Karla González) and Father (J.R. Bradford) made me squirm a bit, once they fell into a deep slumber and Feather came to life I was immediately transported. There are two Feathers, one male (Omar Padilla) and one female (Ninoshka Martínez). Feather is the male-female/Jungian anima-animus, the innocence that is thrust into a world of vice and violence. Male Feather’s captivating initial purity sets up the stark contrast to his later circumstances while female Feather seemed, by the nature of her gender, to be immediately thrust into a world of cynicism.
Truly there are jewels in this piece. Shimmering lights of brilliance amidst a stark and often hyper-real social context mark this production. Other than Mother, Father and the two Feathers’ there are memorable vignettes. Among the strongest are Armando Monsivais’ portrait of the National Hero set in a brothel with female Feather (both brilliant in their parts); Izzy Mayfield went beyond pathos right to the heart with her portrayal of the Lost Worker (alongside male Feather); and Julianna Thompson as the Young Poet (with male Feather) embodied the ephemeral quality of a spiritual muse.
Jake Bowman played the sadist Pimp and the Chief of Police with meaty gusto, as did Fernando Lara in his role as the abusive Police. A completely transformed and unrecognizable Bowman portrayed the Man Carrying the Virgin with admirable piety. Feather and the Tempest mesmerizes, if you let yourself float upon its non-lineal structure, imagery, and poetic language constantly juxtaposed to gritty situations and aggressive social storms.
The original music by Michael Gómez provided the necessary ambiance and a sense of spaciousness that the small TD black box cannot physically provide. The set design by Nick Brethauer was appropriately minimalist and Jeff Hurst’s light design appropriate. That leaves us with the direction of the inimitable Cora Cardona, who, frankly after 30 years of producing theater for Dallas audiences, continues to bring us fresh directorial choices. The playbill states that the costume design was left to each of the individual actors as a matter of character choice, therefore there was no unifying costume design concept.
This play is a delight for those who thrive in the interstices of the ambiguity possible between poetic language, imagery and rational irrationality. It does not matter if you know anything about Argentinean history. The piece offers a universal perspective on the death of innocence, the abuse of power, and survival. “People regain their innocence when they sleep. Sleep is more intense than love.”
Teatro Dallas deserves a round of applause for taking on this larger-than-life piece in their black box. The original production, performed in full-sized proscenium stage, is a better suited space for this piece. Nevertheless, the TD production came through in its intimate space, which, by the way was full to capacity and even had to turn away some people on opening night.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater at the Departments of Spanish and Dance and Theater at the University of North Texas.