Let's talk Latin America

CASA Festival 2017 Reviews: Autoreverse

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In the last of our series of this year’s CASA Latin American Theatre Festival reviews, Anna Warhurst saw Autoreverse, a longing search for family memory via cassette tape.

Actor and theatre-maker Florencia Cordeau’s exploration of her family’s past through the story of Malena is fascinating in content, but feels frustrated and undynamic as a performance. Whilst Cordeau’s biographical portrayal of her family’s separation (Cordeau moved with her parents from Argentina to Chile at the beginning of the Videla dictatorship in 1976) is emotive and powerful in its simplicity, Autoreverse lacked the physicality needed to seduce the audience into the lives of those represented.

In the starkly bare backdrop of Malena’s living room on her fortieth birthday, Malena, played by Cordeau, brings her family into being through a series of tapes sent by her grandparents during Argentina’s Dirty War, when an estimated 30,000 civilians were disappeared by national security forces and right wing paramilitaries. As Malena listens attentively to the voices, songs and household activities or her forebearers, we are propelled back in time into a dialogue between the two families, constrained by distance and time.

This is a difficult feat to pull off, and Cordeau’s attempt to carry this alone is impressive. Cordeau positions Malena as an observer of the past, as well as a present day detective, frantically and audibly searching the tapes for lost pieces of collectively lost memories. Yet Cordeau’s personal attachments are perceptible in the lack of dynamism offered to the audience. Given the complexity of the familial relations and the limited cues, miniature dolls are used to represent different characters to assist the audiences understanding, but they seem to act solely as a means of clarity rather than adding depth to the performance itself.

In the final scene, Malena lists a set of universal truths on memory and family identity in a rare monologue to the audience. Cordeau does effectively convey that, although it is difficult to understand families outside of our own, the search for lost familial memories is common to us all. Inviting the audience to reflect on the composition of their own memories in this climactic moment, however, ultimately feels jarring. It disrupts the intimate and persistent focus on Malena’s family story sustained throughout the entire play, and thus  gives the impression that it was added as an afterthought.

For me, Autoreverse seemed an inevitably unresolved and closeted expression of grief, a cathartic release for Cordeau. This is a sentiment many families, especially those separated by exile and immigration, will relate to, even if the play itself failed to captivate.

Photo credit Ezeiza