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Theater review: 'Diciembre' at REDCAT

February 25, 2010 |  7:00 pm

400.diciembre It's Christmas Eve, 2014, in Santiago. Chile is at war with Peru, whose forces have besieged the capital city, where three siblings are reuniting for the holidays. Their metaphoric situation dovetails with that of Chile's military history to form the mesmerizing core of Teatro en el Blanco's "Diciembre" in its oddly invigorating West Coast premiere at REDCAT. 

Written and directed by Guillermo Calderón, "Diciembre" is the third play in a trilogy with "Neva" and "Clase." Fraternal twins Trinidad (Trinidad González) and Paula (Paula Zúñiga), both pregnant, are polar opposites regarding kid brother Jorge (Jorge Becker), home from the front on 24-hour leave. 

Resolute pacifist Trini wants Jorge to desert. Paula, a hard-core nationalist, would sooner turn her sister in for treason. In the surreal glow of oversize Christmas lights above and below the dining table, they do a verbal tango with their brother and each other. What neither sister considers are Jorge's real feelings about the war, his identity and their family dynamic.

You needn't know Chilean history to comprehend the long-standing geopolitical elements that Calderón stirs into his audacious, often hilarious dialogue, nor understand Spanish to appreciate its masterfully economic blend of near-poetry and graphic context. (English supertitles appear above the playing area.) 

Under Calderón’s spare, specific direction, the actors are terrific, sharply attuned to one another and the script's fluctuations. Zúñiga has a knife-edged deadpan that goes all fluttery when she doubles as Jorge's abandoned girlfriend. González's palpable sensitivity vanishes with her appearance as inebriated Aunt Yuli. The deceptively understated Becker meets them at every turn, and all three ride their climactic monologues as though skiing down the Andes with their souls on fire.

It's a brave piece, with inescapable cautionary allusions to the folly of nation building. Yet finally it's the rampant theatricality that makes "Diciembre" a must-see.

-- David C. Nichols

"Diciembre," REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A. 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Ends Saturday. In Spanish with English supertitles. $20 and $25. (213) 237-2800. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Above: Trinidad González, Jorge Becker, Paula Zúñiga. Photo credit: REDCAT.