Mariano Pensotti's El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past Is a Grotesque Animal), running at the Public Theater as part of its Under the Radar Festival, as well as P.S. 122's COIL Festival, examines the sorrows and joys in the lives of four central characters over the course of ten years.
Part soap opera and part absurdist comedy, Pensotti's script (running nearly two intermissionless hours) has its excesses and consists primarily of narrated action (in Spanish with English supertitles), which, combined, can make the experience somewhat trying. Thankfully, the Argentine production -- directed by the playwright -- boasts a quartet of talented performers in terrifically detailed turns as more than a dozen characters.
For instance, Juan Minujin deftly brings a sense of passion and confusion to his portrayal of Mario, a young artist trying to find his way in the world, even as he finds the right level of dimwitted machismo in his portrayal of a Palestinian refugee who turns up at a Christian theme park in Buenos Aires playing Christ. This character ultimately becomes one of the many lovers that Laura (imbued with both indomitability and heartbreaking vulnerability by Maria Ines Sancerni) has as she journeys from her rural hometown in Argentina to Paris and back again.
Pilar Gamboa brings a similar sensitivity to her central role of Vicky, a young woman who discovers that her father has led a double life, with a second wife and child in the country. The actress also finds just the right amount of spiky intensity that makes her portrayal of Dana, Mario's long-term girlfriend, both comedic and touching, while Javier Lorenzo manages to unearth the humanity in the play's trickiest role, Pablo: a man who finds himself soaring to unexpected heights in the advertising business after he discovers a severed hand on his doorstep.
The production moves seamlessly from place to place thanks to a plywood revolve from designer Mariana Tirantte that's in almost continuous motion and lit exquisitely by designer Matias Sendon.
-- Andy Propst