My liberal social and political sympathies are firmly fixed, but I was taken aback to see among playwright Andrea Thome’s “Pinkolandia” montage of purported “fascists” – Nixon, Reagan and Kissinger – the image of…Scrooge McDuck!
It had never occurred to me that Huey, Dewey and Louie’s uncle was a supporter of repressive dictatorships. But then I am not the preteen daughter of parents who fled their native Chile in the wake of the September 1973 overthrow of that nation’s duly elected socialist government. Thome’s political awareness is a central theme of the play, running at Two River Theater through March 23.
Living in Wisconsin in 1982, the family has put the memory of the Chilean coup d’etat behind them until 12-year old Beny, prompted by her Tio Ignacio’s disclosures about the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet that followed President Allende’s overthrow and suicide, takes up the study. The playwright uses Beny’s attempts to educate her classmates (in one of the play’s best scenes) and her younger sister, Gaby, to educate the audience as well.
The Pinochet years were marked by imprisonment, torture and “disappearance” of political dissidents and support for the dictator by our zealously anti-Marxist CIA has been well documented. Portions of the play amount to a polemic on the subject, and, while we do not question Ms. Thome’s passion, invoking the image of Adolf Hitler with those U. S. officials (and Tio McDuck) mentioned above is a bit jarring.
“Pinkolandia” is not all politics. Enacted to perfection by the adult Maria Helan as Beny and Andrea Morales (Gaby), the young sisters are totally convincing – and eminently lovable. They indulge in fantasies (the polar bear only looks real), share confidences and comfort each other even as they occasionally spat. Like I said, sisters.
The rest of the cast is equally fine. Annie Henk and Varin Ayala are a well-matched dad and mom; David Crommett is a gregarious Tio; and Gabriel Sloyer enacts several relevant cameos.
Together, Puerto Rico-born director Jose Zayas and the Chilean-Costa Rican playwright create an oasis of South American culture in the unlikely setting of Wisconsin.
Two River’s “black box” Marion Huber Theater is ingeniously transformed into a multimedia venue. Flat panels serve as screens for innovative projections; when parted, they reveal the family’s living quarters, including the claustrophobic closet where Gaby escapes reality. Raul Abrego (scenic design), Jeanette Oi-suk Yew (lighting) and projection designers Alex Koch, Kate Freer and Dave Tennent are a formidable team.
It should be noted that about a quarter of the dialogue is in Spanish, and judging by the laughter from some in the audience, so is about three-quarters of the comedy.
Any blank spots endured by English-only speakers are more than offset by the appeal we hope the play will have to bilinguals. Whatever their politics, they will be warmed by the close family relationships portrayed in “Pinkolandia.” I certainly was, even without entendiendo todo el dialogo en espanol.
“Pinkolandia,” through March 23 at Two River Theater, Bridge Avenue, Red Bank. Performances: 1 and 7 p.m. Wednesday;10 a.m. student performances and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets: 732-345-1400 or at tworivertheater.org.