The Stories We Spin

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Think back 10 years.

Who were you in love with?

Where'd you work?

What were your dreams?

Where'd you think you'd be today?

A lot has changed . . . or has it?

Our journey through time is at the heart of Argentinian director and writer Mariano Pensotti's play El pasado es un animal grotesco (which translates to "The past is a grotesque animal"). The production has been touring the States since January and lands at REDCAT this weekend for four performances.

When the play begins, we meet four twenty-something's in Buenos Aires: Pablo's an ad exec who should really be a writer; Mario is an aspiring filmmaker with a taste for the Nouvelle Vague; Vicky's a veterinary assistant who accidentally stumbles on her father's secret life; and Laura's about to steal her family's savings to go live a bohemian Parisian dream. But that's just where we begin.

Over the course of the evening, we follow these four story lines from 1999 to 2009. We witness, to quote Pensotti, "the moment one stops being who one thinks one is to become who they are."

At the center of the production, literally and symbolically, is a 20 foot revolving circular stage divided into four simple, plywood rooms. Each room is ‘home' to one of the story lines. As the set slowly but persistently spins, the play unfolds in a series of short scenes that last only as long as that part of the stage can be seen. More than a clever way to stage the play, the set dictates the narrative structure itself and keeps the play moving -- quite literally.

The cast of four takes turns providing the narration for each scene that's a mixture of cinematic voice-over and novelistic insight.

Fair warning: the play is performed in Spanish with English subtitles and it's a dense but beautiful text -- even in translation.

The scenes themselves are the little fragments that make up a life. It's a study in accumulation: the discoveries, the decisions, the detours, the crises that somehow add up to ten years. The tone swings from darkly comic irony to deeply moving tragedy and back again. One of the joys of the evening is watching the mercurial actors seamlessly transition between characters, emotions, and scenes.

As we begin to make sense of their stories, their arcs -- we begin to make sense of our own. While the events may not be from our own lives, they rhyme with our histories. As you piece together their lives -- discovering which dreams are dashed and which obsessions liberate and which consume -- the subject becomes our own journey with time. How'd you spend the last decade? What's your story? Did it end up the way you thought?

Maybe it's fitting that a show, where Time is a protagonist, is only here for a single weekend.

Don't miss this one.

El pasado es un animal grotesco plays at REDCAT downtown for four performances this weekend only.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running Time: 110 minutes without intermission

Banner image: Matias Sendón