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Based on the experiences of political agitators kept in Rawson political prison during Argentina’s dictatorship in the 1970s, and primarily of Teatro Malayerba company director Aristides Vargas’ brother Chico, who was an inmate for ten years, La Razón Blindada (The Bulletproof Reason) is an intense exploration of the condition of imprisonment, loneliness, of fear, and of the power of narrative to lift the soul to soaring heights, even whilst surrounded by bleak despair.
Cleverly built on the premise that two men – prisoners – confined to their own cells six days a week, are allowed to converse with each other on Sundays, for a limited amount of time so long as they remain seated, the men help each others’ minds to wander free by performing the story of Don Quixote to each other. In so doing, helps to find moments of psychological space free of the confines of the prison.
As the inmates build what they call – variously – an intangible or intelligible tunnel, the characters who themselves become performers help the audience’s imaginations to also roam free, a testimony to what can be done with limited movement, several tables and two chairs on casters, a bedpan, and a sauce pan lid.
With this sparse, minimalist set, performance was all. Vargas, who also starred in the production, along with Gerson Guerra, who plays the prisoner-playing-La-Mancha, are mesmerizing. Guerra conveys a compelling desperation to maintain and protect the illusion they’ve created, a hero yearning to rescue and save and conquer, an ordinary man wanting to escape and revel in the freedom of myth. This freedom allows the characters a joyful sense of play and allows us to celebrate these pockets of resistance from oppression, resistance through laughter, a joyful glee in the full range of performance, from Vargas’ Dulcinea to his conversation with Guerra as a noble dog, responding in knowing ridiculously surreal ‘bow wow’s and shadow puppet gestures.
The choreography was also surprisingly beautiful. Separating each episode of the Quixote saga, Vargas and Guerra used interpretive movement, once again always confined to their institutionally straightbacked seats, to symbolically suggest a cleaving of the air in search of freedom.
And of course, never forgotten is the world of the institution, the shadowy presence of authority that causes the two prisoners to freeze in the middle of their narrative from time to time as though committing some reprehensible act and again, allowing us to feel with them a sense of dread and adding a layer of emotional currency to each subsequent episode of the narrative in which they can explore their deepest fears through the language of imagination and affirm their lives through freedom that is allowed in that psychological space.