Hispanic Theatre Festival

‘Calígula’: disturbing, richly provoking, void of hope

 
 
‘Calígula, el musical’ (‘Caligula, the Musical’) from Buenos Aires is the opening show of the XXIX International Hispanic Theatre Festival at Miami’s Arsht Center.
‘Calígula, el musical’ (‘Caligula, the Musical’) from Buenos Aires is the opening show of the XXIX International Hispanic Theatre Festival at Miami’s Arsht Center.
Nacho Lunadei

If you go

What: XXIX International Hispanic Theatre Festival.

When: Through July 27.

Cost: $30 ($25 seniors, students, theatergoers with disabilities; $100 for four-show package).

Information: 305-445-8877 or www.teatroavante.com; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org; 305-237-3262 or www.prometeotheatre.com; 305-547-5414 or www.miamidadecountyauditorium.org; 305-436-2916 or www.abactingstudio.com.

Where

Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (Carnival).

Teatro Prometeo, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami (Prometeo).

On.Stage Black Box Theatre or MDCA Lobby, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami (On.Stage or MDCA Lobby).

Miami Dade College Koubek Center, 2705 SW Third St., Miami (Koubek).

Adriana Barraza Black Box, 3100 NW 72nd Ave., Suite 127, Miami (AB Black Box).

Miami Dade College InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Ave., Miami (InterAmerican).

Key Biscayne Community Center, 10 Village Green Way, Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne).

The Shows

‘Calígula, el musical’ (‘Calígula, the Musical’) by Cibrián Mahler Company of Buenos Aires, Argentina; 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Arsht (Spanish).

‘La conducta de la vida’ (‘The Conduct of Life’) by Teatro Prometeo of Miami; 8:30 p.m. Saturday and July 18-19, Prometeo (Spanish with English supertitles).

‘Arizona’ by Teatro de Babel of Mexico; 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Koubek (Spanish).

‘Cádiz en mi corazón’ (‘Cádiz in My Heart’) by Albanta of Cádiz, Spain; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, Carnival (Spanish).

‘El panfleto del rey y su lacayo’ (‘The Pamphlet of the King and His Footman’) by Cacumen Teatro of Mexico City, Mexico; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, On.Stage (Spanish).

‘Bromas y lamentos’ (‘Jokes and Laments’) by Teatro Musical Contemporáneo of Buenos Aires, Argentina; 10 p.m. July 10-19, MDCA Lobby (musical piece).

‘Guyi Guyi’ by Periferia Teatro of Murcia, Spain; 5:45 p.m. July 19, Key Biscayne (bilingual and free).

‘Dinossauros’ (‘Dinosaurs’) by Teatro Cena of Brasilia, Brazil; 8:30 p.m. July 19, 5 p.m. July 20, Carnival (Portuguese with Spanish supertitles).

‘El loco y la camisa’ (‘The Madman and the Shirt’) by Banfield Teatro Ensemble of Buenos Aires, Argentina; 8:30 p.m. July 19, 5 p.m. July 20, On.Stage (Spanish).

‘La Visita’ (‘The Visit’) by Uroc Teatro of Madrid, Spain; 8:30 p.m. July 19, 5 p.m. July 20, Koubek (Spanish).

International Children’s Day, July 20, includes 6 p.m. performance of ‘Guyi, Guyi;’ 2 to 7 p.m., InterAmerican (bilingual and free).

‘Años difícilies’ (‘Difficult Years’) by Teatro Avante of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 24-26, 5 p.m. July 27, Carnival (Spanish with English supertitles).

‘¡Gaudeamus!’ by La Chana Teatro of Salamanca, Spain; 8:30 p.m. July 25-26, Prometeo (Spanish).

‘Federico … ¡Ay Clavel!’ by Adriana Barraza Black Box and Nobarte of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 25-26, AB Black Box (Spanish).

‘Otelo’ (‘Othello’) by Compañía de Teatro Viajeinmóvil of Santiago, Chile; 8:30 p.m. July 26, 5 p.m. July 27, Koubek (Spanish).


jlevin@MiamiHerald.com

Caligula, the nihilistic modernist classic by Albert Camus, seems an utterly unlikely candidate for a musical. There’s not even a glimmer of hope, much less a happy ending, in this 1945 play about an insanely brutal ruler and the terrifying consequences of dictatorial power. But the Argentine production Calígula, el musical (‘Caligula, the Musical’) throbs with dystopian melodrama and booming ballads. It’s Evita meets Mad Max on steroids and methamphetamines.

The show, which opened the XXIX International Hispanic Theatre Festival on Thursday, runs through Sunday afternoon at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

The 1983 show was the first effort by the highly successful team of author Pepe Cibrián Campoy and composer Angel Mahler, who went on to create a string of musicals also based on classic texts, including Dracula and A Thousand and One Nights. Campoy and Mahler created Calígula under Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship and premiered it in the regime’s twilight. Their musical (all in Spanish) refracts the play’s themes of the destructiveness of power and the seductive resilience of evil through Argentina’s history and national character.

In a post-show discussion, Campoy joked that anything, even the phone book, could be turned into a musical. Whether that’s a positive change for Calígula is debatable. In one way, the energy and ironic humor of the musical format make the play’s viciousness more bearable. But in another way, the musical is even more grueling, surging from bombastic to over-the-top for two hours, with no respite to think.

Mahler’s songs are mostly pop-operatic power ballads and anthems. And you see the show’s ’80s origins in Rene Diviu’s dated-looking punk S&M costumes, while Nicolas Perez Costa’s choreography is reminiscent of music videos from the same era.

Damian Iglesias gives a masterfully focused and menacing performance as the title character, leading a fiercely committed and talented cast of 12. Iglesias pivots from swaggering macho to terrifying self-assurance and self-absorption. He rapes enthusiastically, strangles nonchalantly. “What do the people matter to me? Nothing matters but me,” he sings to his groveling favorite/lover Mnester (Nicolas Perez Costa — outdone in seductive abasement by Gabriela Bevacqua as Calígula’s lover/sister Drusila).

Camus’ World War II-era play showed the terror and moral degradation of fascism via an insane Roman ruler. It’s not much of a stretch to the Argentine military dictatorship that repressed, tortured and murdered its people. (We saw the link to another Latin American dictatorship in Cuban troupe Teatro El Publico’s production of Calígula on the 2012 Out in the Tropics Festival.)

But Campoy and Mahler also tie that evil to flaws in their country’s national character — egotism, machismo, overweening sexuality — emphasizing that there will always be another Calígula. “Poor people, they don’t understand,” sings the stalking, malevolent Soothsayer (Karina Saez). “It’s always the same.” When Calígula briefly dies, the cast flits in confused terror until he returns.

Leandro Gazzia plays Calígula’s uncle Claudius as a manipulative, simpering cross between jester and kingmaker of a ruler he summons from the billowing purple fabric that seems to symbolize Argentina. There’s a bizarre number for Cesonia (Tiki Lovera), a lascivious, perversely maternal figure who births a lifeless “child.”

All this is richly provoking and disturbing. But Calígula’s relentless intensity and over-the-top style make it very hard to absorb.

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