Review: The Walls

by Lynn on April 29, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Soulpepper Website

Part of the Around the World in 80 Plays Series.

From Argentina.

Written by Griselda Gambaro

Translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz

Directed by Beatriz Pizano

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Augusto Bitter

Carlos González-Vio

Diego Matamoros

A stunning, prescient work beautifully produced in this chilling audio play.

The character known as Young Man has been brought to a large room where he is first questioned by Usher and then by Functionary. Young Man hears a scream in the distance and what he has heard is being questioned. He is not accused of any crime, but he is not able to leave. Every question he asks, either of Usher or Functionary, is turned around on Young Man so that eventually not only is he unsure of anything, but so is the listener. Is he accused of anything? Of course not, is the answer. Can he go home. Why do you want to go home he might be asked? Is there something wrong here? It’s a large, comfortable room? Until the room seems smaller than before.  

One thinks of Kafka regarding the situation of Young Man—a man held for questioning but can’t find out why and by whom. In The Walls the situation seems even more sinister. The country is never mentioned but there are phrases in Spanish. But the play could take place anywhere where people are ‘taken’ to other places for questioning.  I don’t use the word ‘interrogated’ because Gambaro’s use of language (and Marguerite Feitlowitz’s delicate translation) is so subtle and she makes you so aware of the differences in words. I am therefore ‘careful’ not to unbalance this beautifully balanced, frightening play.

At one time, Griselda Gambaro’s work was banned in Argentina. She lived in Spain, in exile, but then returned to Buenos Aires.  She is considered Argentina’s most fearless writer because she holds a mirror to state terrorism that still echoes today. One of the most important female playwrights in Latin America, Gambaro inspired a generation of writers to use theatre in the fight for social justice.

She wrote the play in 1996, fully 10 years before Argentina’s “Dirty War” in which people ‘disappeared’ and were never heard from again—taken for questioning and gone. Such a prescient, brilliant playwright.

Beatriz Pizano had directed The Walls with care and an ever-tightening grip on our ability to breathe. Except for those jarring moments of hearing a scream in the distance, the pace of the questioning and the delicate tone keeps both Young Man and those listening, just a bit unsettled. And then, gradually, more so.

As Young Man, Augusto Bitter is accommodating, aiming to answer questions, and seemingly unsuspecting or alarmed at his being there. I thought that interesting. Perhaps it’s because the listener has the benefit of historical hindsight and knows that this situation does not bode well. Eventually Young Man gets more and more agitated as the desperate reality sinks in. As Usher, Diego Matamoros is a weary questioner, seemingly unconcerned with Young Man’s situation. Carlos González-Vio as Functionary is a more hail-fellow, well met questioner. Both Usher and Functionary are not as obvious as ‘good-cop, bad-cop’ but something more sinister, as they play off each other, separately.

Bravo to Beatriz Pizano for deciding on the play and for Weyni Mengesha, Soulpepper’s Artistic Director for including this compelling play in Around the World in 80 Plays and introducing us to Griselda Gambaro.

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