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Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Year I Was Born: Messy, Personal, and Totally Worthwhile

Posted by Alison Hallett on Sun, Sep 15, 2013 at 1:05 PM

LolaArias_TheYearIWasBorn_DavidAlarc__n.jpg
  • David Alarcón

The performers in Lola Arias' The Year I Was Born are young Chileans in their 20s and 30s. Most grew up in Chile under Pinochet's dictatorship; some grew up in exile, thanks to the politics of their parents.

Over the course of about two hours, the show delivers biographical information about each of the performers: Where they were born, significant events that occurred the year of their birth, where they lived as children, what their parents did. Because they were all born after Pinochet's military coup of 1973, their life stories are subtitled with a history of their country's recent turmoil. One young woman's mother was gunned down by government police, and her picture appeared on the front page of the newspaper as a warning to opposition parties. Others had parents who were friendly with the regime, or who worked for the police, or who just kept their heads down and tried to go to work.

At one point, the actors are asked to line up onstage in order of their parents' political affiliations, from left wing to center to right. As they jostle for position and argue about whose mother was more of a revolutionary, or whose dad was in tighter with the military, it's fascinating to watch: family pride and loyalty superimposed against the broader context of a military dictatorship that used torture and murder to violently suppress all opposition. (They later repeat the exercise for skin color and economic class; each time, it's revealing.)

But the remarkable thing about The Year I Was Born is that there's a sense of fun onstage even as the material is often quite heavy. The performance doesn't wallow; it isn't maudlin. There are electric guitars, and dance numbers, and clever bits of stagecraft—all of which makes it clear that director Lola Arias is deeply invested not just in her subject matter, but in finding challenging and uniquely theatrical ways to explore it. And while show feels about 20 minutes too long—thanks in part to some issues with the supertitles that the cast handled quite gracefully—it's one of those performances that makes me glad TBA exists, because seeing stuff like this makes the world feel a little bit smaller.

There's one more performance tonight at 6:30 pm. Highly recommended!

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