October 20, 1994

Warsaw Tango

Warsaw Tango
by Alberto Felix Alberto

Teatro Del Sur
by arrangement with State Theatre
Amanda….Maria Alejandra Figueroa
The Diva…Marta Riveros
The Magnific…Eduardo Cappussi
The Pole ….Luis Tenewicki
Direction, Design and Lighting…Alberto Felix Alberto
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre
Wednesday 2 November

Warsaw Tango is very much the creation of Alberto Felix Alberto. He has written, designed and directed this dream-like performance for quartet and the production has toured widely since its premiere seven years ago. This is the first tour to Australia by an Argentinian company and 1995 will see an exchange venture, featuring Robyn Archer, touring in South America. These are welcome and valuable cultural initiatives.

It is unfortunate, however, that Warsaw Tango should prove so theatrically unsatisfying and so short on thematic protein. Especially when it opens with such promise. Amanda, a drab young domestic, is plodding through the ironing while listening to the heartbreak lyrics of Azucenia Maizani, sultry tango diva of the 40s.In contrast to Amanda’s featureless white backdrop is the decorative facade of a smoky bistro in front of which a tragic threesome bursts into life. In a play-within-the-play the Magnific is quarreling with the Diva while an elegant young Pole fecklessly watches. The Diva spurns the Magnific who pulls out his shooter and it’s curtains all round.

The production is presented in a succession of short scenes with blackouts. The fractured narrative deconstructs the death of the Diva, a familiar machismo melodrama of jealous passion and male violence. Amanda, at her ironing, fantasises other story lines. Some are harshly real- is she raped by the Pole, the shiftless depressive with whom she then appears to be living ? He, at any rate, is drawn into a polymorphous menage with the Diva and the Magnific- she of the forced careless laugh, he of the Mobster hat and heavy moustache.

Throughout this the repetitive piano lines insinuate themselves along with scraps of torch song. The various couple combinations almost dance, or, more often, exchange dark meaningfuls. The tango itself, with its elaborate erotics and extravagant visual rhetoric, remains incipient- and disappointingly- under-explored.

The performances have the formality and artificiality of silent cinema, an interesting if not particularly innovative choice. Maria Alejandra Figueroa transforms Amanda from sexual inhibition and victim to vengeful vamp. Marta Riveros sustains the mesmeric seductiveness of the Diva while Eduardo Cappussi, a tango expert who is never permitted more than a few riffs, glowers and noirs behind his hat brim. Luis Tenewicki, in white linen with slicked black hair and owlish specs, looks just the sort of Pole who should be doing the tango.

This mannered pantomime focuses to the point of narcissism on the mechanisms of courtship while unravelling them into same-gender and triangulated combinations. Questions of sexual power and emotional treachery are clearly being cast- particularly within Alberto’s immediate culture. But the force of the critique does not carry. Nor is it particularly fresh – especially since cross-gendering and sexual fetishism are ubiquitous to the point of cliche in current pop culture.

The skimpy text offers no help either. There are only two utterances in the whole piece. The translation of Amanda’s throaty exclamation reads -“Shut up, please, shut up !”. And the Pole’s earnest recitation turns out to be -“Maybe you don’t know, but it seems that the whales are committing suicide… and also it seems that there is a hole in the atmosphere that could be lethal… and I believe.. I believe that I love you.”

If there was some theatrical location for these lines, some indication of differentiation between matters of real moment and the banalities of sentimental romanticism that would be fine. But in the unresolved posturings of Warsaw Tango they sound like something out of Monty Python’s Hungarian phrasebook.

Financial Review, October 20, 1994 (?)

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