Spanish Absurdism at its Best and Worst

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Reviewed by Kenneth Laboy

The entirely-in-Spanish production of Ramiro Sandoval’s En el Ojo de la Aguja begins with a sense of unease as discordant notes punctuate the darkness where masked figures roam. They carry pieces of wooden wreckage that they use as furniture. They build things and unmake them only for someone else to take the pieces and build again. It is then that one realizes: the play has been woven with the absurd – characters who grapple with an incomprehensible world, the constant inability to effectively communicate, repetitive behavior that leads to the same results.

The playwright is clearly grappling with ideas of otherness, conflict and alienation within an existential framework. All of which are accentuated by the slow rising of a physical wall between the audience and the players on stage. Nothing they say or do will stop that wall from rising and so every action on stage is meaningless.

In this play the absurd is used as a tool to alienate. The characters highly stylized jokers who are in on the ruse. They speak to each other of staying on script, they constantly ask each other if they are bored, they quip that fun only exists in alienation. The audience is being entertained by senseless, though not depthless, dialogue. And the characters while away the time until their script ends.

These ideas are all exciting to engage with, and it is a production that creates many sorts of important conversations. In theory this should be enough, but as a performance piece it lacks stakes; worse yet, it is not engaging. And the text is self-aware enough to know this about itself. When the characters break the fourth wall and see the many eyes, they comment on those eyes being disengaged. When the characters ask each other if they are bored, it is hard not to sympathize if they are. And, while thematically engaging, the rising wall is only a too constant reminder of how much of the performance is left.

The play is smart and dense, with a sophisticated knowledge of both theater and language. The actors do well by the stylized demands of the production and the director skillfully uses the space to highlight the thematic through-line of the piece. But art can be successful without being satisfying.

En el Ojo de la Aguja plays now through Sunday, September 22nd at The Tank (312 West 36th Street, NYC)

Tickets can be bought at http://www.theTankNYC.org for $30

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