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  • Performance Review:El año de Ricardo
  • Gregory Ramos
El año de Ricardo. By Angélica Liddell. Company: Foro de La Fábrica. Directed by Alonso Barrera. Actors: Maria Aura, Juan Velázquez

On the surface, it seems that Foro de La Fábrica’s move to produce Spanish playwright Angélica Liddell’s blatantly political play, El año de Ricardo, would be an odd choice. The company, housed in a trendy and popular refurbished factory building in Querétaro, Mexico, complete with a modern restaurant and retail stores, maintains a healthy following through a variety of productions, including popular original comedies and crowd-pleasing family dramas. La Fábrica recently presented Liddell’s play in nearby, ex-patriot destination spot, San Miguel de Allende, and plans to include the production in the upcoming Fringe Festival in the same town. A Mexican tour of the production is to follow. The artistic and financial investment in political drama here seems, on the surface, at odds with the bucolic atmosphere found in this region of Mexico. This is after all, a region that has been relatively free from media coverage of drug lords and immigration strife. So why would this company choose to take on an ambitious and disturbing text that stands to confuse and alienate its audiences?

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Actor: Maria Aura.

Photo: Izaak Ferro

Angélica Liddell’s troubling and complex play El año de Ricardo probes its audience to contemplate the political structure of democracy and its ability to obscure the abuse of power. Using Shakespeare’s title character [End Page 177] as a metaphor, Liddell goes beyond political constructs and delves into the psychological and deeply emotional human mechanisms that render world leaders corrupt, abusive, and ruthless. The metaphor is brutally captured in Liddell’s play, not in the sort of dramatic action found in the traditional wellmade play, or in the sweeping historical context of Shakespearean drama, or in the type of social conditions depicted in Brecht. Liddell carves a new genre of political theater through a volcanic monologue vomited forth by her central character. The metaphors explored through the torrent of words can be applied not only to political leaders but also to individuals who possess any degree of power over another person in any situation, anywhere in the world. The result is not only an indictment of politicians and authority figures, but of human nature itself. The play asks audiences to contemplate unpleasant aspects of the human psyche and therefore is clearly in search of an audience that is intelligent, self-reflective, and brave enough to enter a troubling and foreboding psychological landscape. It is important to note that although Liddell has been a known figure in Spanish and European theater since the mid-1990s, it was the two and one-half hour El año de Ricardo, which the playwright-director-actor performed at Festival d’Avignon in 2010, along with a second work, La casa de la fuerza, that introduced her to a broader international audience of critics and academics. She has received several high profile awards, including the 2013 Silver Lion Award for Theater at the Venice Biennale and the 2012 National Prize for Dramatic Literature (La casa de la fuerza), given by Spain’s Ministry of Culture.

Director Alonso Barrera and company members of Foro de La Fábrica clearly understand the profound intent of the play and bravely challenge audiences by presenting an artful and paradoxically graceful production. The stage is white and spare, few set pieces are used, and strategically disturbing photographic images of war are used only at the climax of the play. A screen with general supertitles is provided for English speakers. Barrera understands that all elements of the production are in service of Liddell’s complex and highly intelligent text and therefore uses the elements on hand to support this version’s one and one-half hour monologue performed by actor María Aura as Ricardo. The director creates an internal logic in this production that seems to borrow from the influences of Brecht, Robert Wilson, Commedia dell ’arte, Cantinflas, and even Stanislavsky in rendering the world of...