American Repertory Theatre, at the Zero Arrow Theatre. Directed by Nicolás Montero. First performance 14 October 2005. One hour, 45 minutes.
The Zero Arrow Theatre, so-called because its address is 0 Arrow Street, in Cambridge, just off Massachusetts Avenue, is the ART’s second venue, new this season. A three-quarter-round flexible-seating stage and theatre auditorium, it’s the familiar “black box” dear to generations of “experimental” theatre organizations. Positively Spartan, with plastic seats, it affords the great advantage of all such small spaces of putting the audience very close to the action.
Humberto Dorado’s The Keening is a one-woman play, about a woman who herself, along with her sons and townspeople, falls afoul of the drug wars in Colombia and, particularly, is an emotional victim of a massacre. The scene is a morgue, and the woman has come here — it finally turns out — to kill her son with one of her dead physician-husband’s scalpels because of his betrayal of his people through helping to cause the massacre of an entire village that resisted the guerrillas.
We don’t find this out until very late in the play. Meanwhile, what we seem to have is a story-telling under the guise of the dramatic action. A drama must be in the present tense (Suzanne Langer said that the mode of the drama is destiny — the present arcing constantly into the future), but this is narrative in almost exclusively the past tense. It would make a fine film, where flashbacks (as in the case of The English Patient, which I finally got to see only last weekend) give us a you-are-there “present” quality to scenes that we understand are finished and in the past. But it doesn’t work as well in the continued real-time of a dramatic presentation.
Specifically, what happens is that we find the horrendous and grievous story told by the woman curiously unmoving. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the generic fuzziness of the theatrical basis for the play. Granted, the woman’s story is riveting, and the playwright and director have found much convincing business for the actress, Marissa Chihers, to do — including pulling off the petals of dozens of red roses and then, as she continues to speak, scattering them in a long, irregular ribbon on the floor to symbolize the blood spilled by the massacre.
Certainly a play worth seeing, this was, but we left feeling curiously neutral, emotionally, about it. It took us some minutes of walking and driving afterwards to put our finger on the problematic generic conventions and assumptions involved.