By Fermin Cabal (Translation Robert Shaw)
Directed by Jonathan Messer
With Verity Charlton, Kate Cole, Olivia Connolly, Evelyn Krape & Laura Lattuada
Set Design by Peter Jumford
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Stage Manager Daniel Hall
Tejas Verdes (May 31 – July 1, 2006) Cameron Woodhead, The Age (6/06/2006)
Red Stitch is one of our more highly regarded theatre companies, and deservedly so. It has a wealth of talented actors, committed to furthering their art through an ambitious program of contemporary plays from around the world.
Its latest effort, Tejas Verdes, concerns the torture and murder of thousands following the Chilean coup of 1973, led by Augusto Pinochet.
The fate of the “disappeared” is a horrifying subject, and one fraught with peril for any fictionalised treatment.
But Spanish playwright Fermin Cabal manages to eschew cheap sentimentality and craft a work that serves as both a warning against inhumanity and a worthy memorial to its victims.
Through the monologues of five female figures, Cabal describes the death of Colorina (Verity Charlton), whose restless ghost bookends the play. The other characters are all, to varying degrees, collaborators in the atrocities of the Pinochet era: Colorina’s cellmate (Olivia Connolly), who turned her in to the secret police; a military doctor (Kate Cole), whose adverse report led to her death; a gravedigger (Evelyn Krape), responsible for interring murdered corpses; and a publicist (Laura Lattuada), representing the dictator through the legal trials of his twilight years.
Tejas Verdes is essentially a documentary play. Cabal’s monologues are naturalistic, with the force and form of oral history.
Jonathan Messer’s direction is an exercise in restraint; the production is a heavily naturalistic one, delivered in neutral and unemphatic Australian accents. It pays off, and Messer draws out some fabulous performances: Charlton is superb as the defiant Colorina; Cole’s defensive doctor is acutely observed; Krape’s gravedigger is a wonderfully melancholy piece of comic acting (despite the occasional stutter on opening night).
The main flaws derive from succumbing to theatricality, which Connolly as the informant does sporadically and Lattuada as the publicist does from the moment she steps on stage, making her character utterly implausible.
Technically, the lighting was a bit off-cue. However, designer Peter Mumford should win an award for his set – a minimalist but highly effective display of memorial art, with suspended reliquaries and the names of the disappeared in luminescent graffiti as backdrop.
Tejas Verdes is a play that masterfully explores the darkness of the human heart, and its resilience. This production is equal to its challenges and, for the most part, makes compelling theatre.
Thuy On, The Australian 05/06/2006
ONE day in Santiago, a young woman “went into the woods and never went out again. There was nothing left of her. Not even a single breadcrumb to show the way.”
The translated title of Tejas Verdes is Green Gables, a puzzlingly innocuous name for a detention centre used for gross acts of torture during Chilean dictator General Pinochet’s rule.
To represent the thousands of “disappeared” victims during Pinochet’s murderous regime in the 1970s, Spanish playwright Fermin Cabal dramatises the life, torture and death of one Colorina (Verity Charlton), a political dissident who speaks to us from the grave. Her haunted spirit bookends Tejas Verdes but her story is elaborated on by four other female monologues.
There’s her friend and enforced betrayer, a grave-digger, a military doctor and a lawyer. Except for the tolling of bells at the beginning and end, there is no musical accompaniment to this production.
Powered solely by voices and with minimal dramatic action, Tejas Verdes’ multi-angled narrative would work just as well on radio. The protagonists speak directly to the audience, without any softening filter or distracting theatrics, as though they were witnesses at a tribunal.
Against a wall of scrambled graffiti names, symbolising the “screams of the condemned”, Charlton begins the harrowing story of her character’s descent into hell. Jonathan Messer’s spare, documentary-style direction renders Colorina’s litany of abuse impossible to listen to with detachment and without wincing in horror.
Beaten, shocked, raped and finally shot and thrown into the sea by the secret police after failing to name her Marxist associates, Colorina’s tale is matched by her fellow prisoner’s (Olivia Connolly) agonised account of how the presence of her six-year-old son and a nutcracker forced her into collaborating with her persecutors.
As the dead-eyed victims, Charlton and Connolly give performances that are both powerful and restrained. As the pragmatic everywoman, Evelyn Krape’s gravedigger testifies to the terrorism of ordinary civilians. Kate Cole and Laura Lattuada are also impressive as Pinochet apologists, one as the brusque doctor trying hard to convince everyone, including herself, that torture didn’t actually happen in Tejas Verdes and the other as the lawyer, supremely confident that Pinochet was wrongly smeared as a megalomaniacal tyrant.
She reminds us of the collusion of Western democracies with his regime and how Pinochet had a “stabilising” influence in Chile. Tejas Verdes ends on a desperately hopeful note, with Colorina believing in a divine justice as retribution for her murder. The rest of us cynics filed out quietly into the dark and pondered the war crimes of contemporary “civilised” regimes.