'Every Young Woman's Desire' explores dark heart of Pinochet-era Chilean politics
By Nelson Pressley
Monday, May 31, 2010
Chilean politics is the subject of "Every Young Woman's Desire," the sinister fantasy playing at Crystal City's Clark Street Playhouse. When a woman walks in her own front door and a man slips in behind her -- a government thug in suit and sunglasses -- he's in for good, and his relentless harassment of the woman quickly defines her whole life.
The context for this terse, surreal 1986 play is the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet through the 1970s and 1980s. But what seems to interest playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra is not just the brutality and repression but the corrosive mind-set that evolves within a terrorized society.
Did Veronica, as the woman is called (the man has no name), know a Peter Brown, now disappeared? Does she know what dark mysteries are unfolding where she works? Is this gun-wielding intruder a threat or protection? De la Parra, whose works have been seen here at GALA Hispanic Theatre, is also a psychiatrist, and the nightmarish tango he unspools depicts personalities warping badly as the sadistic man and the accused woman grapple over who has power and what is true.
The big ideas have a bit of a hollow ring, though, in the Washington Shakespeare Company's brittle production. Christopher Henley and Kari Ginsburg go through violent motions as the man and Veronica, with the hair-trigger Henley prowling and berating while Ginsburg scampers and shrieks in fear. The more time the characters spend together, the more complicated and complicit the relationship becomes, but the concept plays like a diagram: Henley and Ginsburg don't generate either the heat or the high style the show wants.
Director Jay Hardee aims for a slightly chic-looking tyranny; the blandly domestic yet comfortable set is framed by two smallish video monitors, and the general mood is consistently grim. But the projections (menacing tanks and glossy beer ads, plus watchful eyes and alert ears) rate as minor occasional distractions, and visually the rest of the production is flat.
The 75-minute play, getting its English-language premiere, is a peculiar choice as this low-budget troupe wraps up a long tenure in its dilapidated warehouse venue (the building is slated for the wrecking ball when this show ends; the company will relocate to Rosslyn). Why this play? Why now? Totalitarian themes and nonrealistic techniques aren't alien to the WSC, yet the show doesn't begin to muster what de la Parra tries to summon: an iron psychological grip.
By Marco Antonio de la Parra. Translated by Charles Philip Thomas. Directed by Jay Hardee. Set, Eric Grims; lights, Jason Cowperthwaite; costumes, Jennifer Tardiff; sound and projections, David Crandall. With Kathleen Akerley, Gabriel Swee, Ellie Nicoll, Christopher Buchanan, Tel Monks. About 75 minutes.