Okay, this might sound disingenuous coming from an official blogger for SIFA, but YOU HAVE TO GO WATCH THIS PLAY.
I’ve heard Keng Sen hyping this show for months – it’s by a young, dynamic Chilean company that’s made a splash in the grand festivals of Europe, and they’ve made a special detour on their tour of the continent to come to our sunny island set in the sea…
But all the same, the subject seemed a little esoteric. It’s a fresh look at the fall of the President Salvador Allende, who was martyred in 1973 when Augusto Pinochet established a military dictatorship in the country. This shift of power was a big deal in Europe, but here in Asia, we have our own political horrors to deal with, and a pretty young theatergoing crowd who can barely even remember the Cold War. How could we relate?
Well, for starters, the actors of Teatro La-Resentida simply do not let you get bored. They aren’t just dynamic – they’re practically gymnastic in their physical performances. They get into fistfights, yell (tastefully translated) profanities at each other, do crazy hip-hop dances, strip down in front of the audience, pull banners from the ceiling, snort cocaine…
All this while dressed as Allende’s Cabinet – all ministerial black blazers, neckties and power suits.
(There’s also a number of costume changes: bathing suits, golden body suits with built-in tear ducts that squirt all over at the front rows. The usual.)
But what’s really interesting is that there are these uncanny congruences with Singaporean history/identity that pop up:
1) When Pinochet’s army was storming the palace, Allende gave a final impassioned public speech from his office to his people, captured forever on radio. This recording is the kick-off point for the show, as the Ministers try and massage his words and image into a more mass-market, palatable, focus group-oriented package for the citizenry.
An iconic moment in national history, played over and over to the point of absurdity. A much beloved and extremely deceased leader of the land. We have one of those too.
2) One of the key points of tension in Allende’s administration is that he was a socialist. This was what moved the army to revolt, and the US to support his overthrow – dramatised here through an expletive-laden phone call from Allende to the US President, rejecting American culture, containing the immortal words, “FUCK HANNAH MONTANA.”
And yet his Ministers are deeply Americanised, guzzling a fridge’s worth of Diet Coke, summarily firing unionized tech crew. And that’s representative of today’s Chile: a coalition of the left and right, united by the agreement that dictatorship was bad, guys.
Singapore’s also torn between socialism and neoliberalism. #twinsies!
3) There were hip-hop dancing ministers. ‘Nuff said.
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There’s a number of other shout-outs I’d like to acknowledge – the incorporation of a copy of Straits Times, Singapore fifty-dollar bills (it’s all about the Yusof Ishaks), and even a Singaporean actor into the show, playing a disadvantaged Chilean child.
The actor was a SOTA student, Matteo YongJie Galbiati. He learned all his movements (he had no lines) in just two days, and he was wonderfully charismatic and convincing.
Also noteworthy: the fact that the actor playing Allende – Rodolfo Pulgar – is an actual survivor of Pinochet’s tortures and imprisonment. And he wasn’t originally supposed to be wheelchair-bound – turns out that he broke his foot just before they went on tour, so they had to cut out a number of scenes to accommodate this.
It works, though. This looming, heroic figure, brought low by the times, turned into a lame-footed parody of himself by artist-activists…
No parallel of that in Singapore, I’m afraid. No parallel at all.