by Suzanne Karpinski · January 18, 2015
Production Photo | Hunter Canning
I remember having a zoetrope as a kid – one of those double-sided images attached to a string that creates the illusion of movement when the string is wound or spun. Taking stage at Pregones Theatre in the Bronx is Javier Antonio Gonzalez’s Zoetrope, a play that similarly conveys a sense of movement through its own series of seemingly still scenes.
Gonzalez, along with his cohorts from Caborca Theater, are an ambitious bunch – the writer/director takes us through the intertwining lives of a military postal worker, his family, his lover and his friends, all living close knit in Puerto Rico over the span of twenty years. All of the scenes are out of order, providing the audience with the pleasure of piecing all of the information surrounding each event together one clue at a time, just like the little toy on the string.
The cast is strong as well, rapidly moving between English and Spanish within each scene seamlessly, and maintaining a firm grasp of their circumstances, as the scenes seem to move outside of time and space. In what might be described as a post-Brechtian sensibility, Gonzalez gives his actors free reign to slide in and out of character as needed, as well as rearranging set pieces, furniture, and even a camera for them to film each other as they perform. In doing so, they are constantly reminding the audience of the inherent artificiality of the moment, yet, the actors are so comfortable and at home on their stage, it has the effect of drawing the audience in.
The play is presented in two-parts, although it is actually two plays presented back to back, and this may be where the evening falters a bit. Each play clocks in at 90 minutes, and with a 30-minute intermission, the audience is in for a commitment. Part One is a tight oiled machine, no doubt in part due to the fact that Caborca has just come off a separate run of it at the Encuentro Festival in Los Angeles. Part Two is another matter. Gonzalez introduces abstract movement, modern choreography, and new characters in what feels like a totally different production. While Part Two gives us a glimpse of what happens to the characters in Part One, it does so with little sense of urgency or unveiling.
Still, one has to admit the nerve and the risk taking this company engages in. For those so inclined, Zoetrope provides an engaging, post-modern look at love and politics in Puerto Rico, the curiosity of how one hand written letter can bring a group of people closer together and even in the stillest of moments, a larger story is always unwinding.