Opening the 2018 Out of the Wings Festival of theatre in translation with False Alarm,
written by Cuban Virgilio Piñera and translated by Kate Eaton, has served to kick off proceedings with subtlety and levity.
As with any beginning, we have entered the realm of the unknown, the unexpected, the ‘absurd’, which soon transcends the narrow-minded logic of convention and deals with humour, fantasy, and, occasionally, anguish, especially by the character who tries in vain to make sense of the situation in which he finds himself. Laughter comes with surprise, when something goes beyond ‘standard’ expectations of a situation, in this case that of a character who feels or knows he has committed a crime and has to deal with a conventional figure of authority (a judge) and an equally conventional disturbed victim (a crying widow), both accusing him and he defending himself. The judge attacks his motives, the crying widow attacks his ‘respectability’.
The very simple movements, the fast pace and the expressionistic acting of the actors playing the two ‘accusing characters’ who, after a first quick exit, change their attitude to become involved in a world of their own where the ‘criminal’ is almost forgotten and they deal with their own particular preferences and force him to struggle for recognition of his identity, adds to the hilarity and the intimate atmosphere of the play. The character is no longer trying to prove his guilt or his innocence, and attempts to ‘exist for the other two’, to ‘stand his ground’ after losing all relevance for them.
As happens all too often in this absurd world in which we live, where relations of power and power-games affect us all, there is no easy resolution or obvious way out. The initial ‘serious’ inquiry can only be ceased in the same way one ceases the chattering of the mind, by a kind of wu wei, or, in more more common terms, a letting go, a letting it be, in this case supplied by a relaxing immersion in the rhythm and melody of the Blue Danube. Fortunately, in this case, the two authoritative characters seem rather good humoured and understanding, if self-involved, much more so than the all too often humourless authoritative figures of the ‘real’ world, or the world of our own mind, who do not seem to care much for jokes.