Acrosstown's 'Mantis' offers allegorical feast


"The Praying Mantis" features Madison Warren as Lina, Keenan Walsh as Juan, and Alex VonMering as Llalla.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 1:09 a.m.

Facts

"The Praying Mantis"

  • NOTE: "The Praying Mantis" is being performed in both English and Spanish, by separate casts. The English-speaking production runs today through Saturday; the Spanish-speaking production runs Jan. 25-27.
  • WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, through Jan. 27.
  • WHERE: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
  • TICKETS: $7 students, $9 general admission (284-2495)

  • In 1973 in Chile, Augusto Pinochet stormed to power, toppling a democratically elected, albeit Socialist, government. A reign of terror ensued. Three thousand Chileans were murdered by Pinochet's government for the crime of dissent. Thirty thousand Chileans were tortured.
    A Chilean playwright, Alejandro Seiveking, went into exile. "The Praying Mantis," now playing at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, comes out of that dark time.
    It is a play of ideas. We might think of Edward Albee or Tony Kushner as American parallels, but that would be missing the point: there can be no parallel.
    We are accustomed to a forum of free speech that permits all manner of ideological confrontation. This play emerges from an arena that would permit no alternative viewpoint.
    "The Praying Mantis" is, necessarily, a political allegory. Its meaning is locked inside a secure account that can be opened only with a worldview. To view the play otherwise, as a weirdly surrealistic soap opera, may be gratifying as well, but, again, you'd be missing the point.
    Into an allegory, the playwright could freely pour his passion. Gorgeous monologues of dramatic poetry and lyricism give a sense of what it's like to rise like a lightning bolt.
    The conflicting partisans, even when disrobed and revealed as Chile's military and ministerial leaders locked in an internecine struggle, are still metaphors for us. Now they can stand for our own contentious cabinet, as Bob Woodward revealed in "State of Denial."
    The plot travels far beyond the lurid confines of desperate housewives to a Victorian mansion (this is still the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, so you're going to have to use your imagination here), where three sisters vie, vixen-like, for one man.
    Two of the sisters are in mourning, and, it would seem, in heat. It is the youngest sister, Adela (Ellie Theurer), who is betrothed, and yearns beyond fulfillment, for escape. The girl wants to go places, anywhere in the exotic geography bobbing unmoored along with everybody and everything else in a sea of commodities.
    The elder sisters smolder. Love and hate have become indistinguishable for them, as have life and death.
    As the wicked sisters, Lina and Llalla, Madison Warren and Hannah McInnes-Dean are striking. From the moment the lights come up, they seem to be inhabitants of a painting, a Modigliani perhaps. The work of the two young actresses is exquisite, a study of fire and ice.
    The dramatic action devolves into a three-way seduction of Juan (Keenan Walsh), the fiance, who works in a bank, and is ready to rob or even kill for true love, providing that it actually exists.
    Instead of the burning fireplace symbolizing sex, sex becomes a metaphor for freedom. So that it can be seen that freedom in itself is not the ultimate goal we may perceive it to be. The question is: What do you intend to do with it?
    The wicked sisters shuck their mourning dresses and model their wedding gowns, with all the virginal allure of, say, Madonna.
    Meanwhile, a fourth sister is kept locked away. We can hear her plaintive cries.
    The characters discover what we have now become most painfully aware of: All security is an illusion. Comfort can suffocate. Murder becomes a retort. "You get used to it. You put on your mourning dress."

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