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  • El Pasado Es Un Animal Grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal)
  • Johnathon D. Boyd
El Pasado Es Un Animal Grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal). Created and directed by Mariano Pensotti. Wexner Center for the Arts Mershon Stage, Columbus, Ohio. 20 January 2012.

Mariano Pensotti’s innovative new play El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past Is a Grotesque Animal) challenged audiences to consider how memory, time, and language affect theatrical storytelling. Rather than frame the production within a single perspective, Pensotti investigated the nature of perspective itself, utilizing fluid movement and transitions with the set design and a narrative constructed of interconnected fragments. Pensotti’s production manipulated time and stage space to dynamically shift audience attention, and utilized both Spanish and English to communicate the story of four characters’ struggle to resist physical and emotional isolation. Actors Pilar Gamboa (Vicki), Javier Lorenzo (Pablo), Juan Minujin (Mario), and Julieta Vallina (Laura) mutually performed as characters and narrated one another’s separate stories, suggesting that a complete picture of any one person’s past can never be fully recounted through a single, individual memory, but instead through an expression of multiple simultaneous articulations of the past. This process revealed that the fusion of perspectives alters the past into a strange, or grotesque, representation of reality.

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Javier Lorenzo (Pablo), Juan Minujin (Mario), and Pilar Gamboa (Vicki) in El pasado es un animal grotesco. (Photo: Almudena Crespo.)

As a noted experimental playwright and director from Argentina, Pensotti developed El pasado es un animal grotesco from a variety of inspirational sources. In his program note, he explained how he constructed the production by questioning how the life of a hypothetical person may be recounted over the period of ten years. Inspired by a collection of damaged and discarded fragments of photographs and the song “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” by Of Montreal, Pensotti conceived of a narrative-driven text that tells the story of four young people through fragments of events in their past. The production first premiered at Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires in 2010, and later traveled to various European countries before touring throughout the United States and showing at the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Mershon Stage in January 2012.

The four disjointed narratives in El pasado es un animal grotesco begin on the same day in 1999 and follow key moments in the lives of four individuals—Vicki, Pablo, Mario, and Laura—over a ten-year period. Vicki discovers that her father has been leading a secret life and has another family in the country. As the fragments of Vicki’s narrative are constructed, the audience watched the events unfold onstage, just as Vicki watched her father with his other wife and children. Pablo is a young advertising executive that finds a mysterious severed hand in a box on his doorstep. Unsure of the meaning behind this macabre symbol, Pablo’s search for an explanation leads to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and even pleasure. Mario attempts to establish his identity as an independent filmmaker, but only manages to earn a living appearing in commercials. Despite his success with a unique documentary concept film, Mario ultimately realizes that his ambitions alienate [End Page 433] him from the woman he loves. Finally, Laura steals money from her parents to move to Paris and lead a bohemian lifestyle. After suffering through three failed relationships, a bizarre acting job at a Christian theme park, a miscarriage, and hospitalization following a suicide attempt, Laura returns to her parents’ home.

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Javier Lorenzo (Pablo) in El pasado es un animal grotesco. (Photo: Almudena Crespo.)

Pensotti revealed aspects of human suffering in each of these stories by interweaving segregated moments from the past, suggesting that people often remember the past in fragments, much as one might look through an album of old photographs. The production further reflected a contemporary culture based on remixes, flawed memories, and obsessive yet incomplete documentation. For example, as the years passed, stagehands appeared off to the side of the set, carrying multiple boxes labeled for each year. By the end of...


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pp. 433-435
Launched on MUSE
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