‘Smithereens’ portray Argentina’s traumatic past

Mexican author Carlos Fuentes once said Latin America is in a continuous battle with its past. For Latin America, much like human beings, loathes the concept of responsibility. Self-deception seems to be endemic to the region-particularly when it comes to confronting the demons of its civil wars.

Those responsible for the atrocities deny they ever occurred, much less that they carried them out. Victims have yet to be vindicated or able to express the complexity of their grief. Those who stood idly by carry an unbearable guilt. Many want to openly discuss what happened but don’t know how; most want to forget it and move on.

These are the issues at the heart of Mario Diament’s latest theatrical work, Smithereens, a play that explores the emotional aftermath of Argentina’s ruthless six-year dictatorship. The military juntas that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1982 murdered nearly 30,000 people, many of whom were never found. (Coincidentally, Sunday marked the 26 anniversary of the 1976 coup.)

Diament, a renowned Argentine playwright and journalist who worked as an editor for the renowned opposition paper La Opinion, uses his characters to represent the different factions of Argentine society.

David Rabinovich (David Mann), a journalist who fled Argentina as the first military junta unleashed its wave of terror, represents those who fled and remained oblivious to the horrific repressive campaigns carried out by the juntas. Gone for nearly 17 years, David is consumed by guilt as he learns of the atrocities committed by the regime.

Claudia Gonzalez (Marcy Ruderhausen), a human rights activist and member of the left, embodies the many tortured victims of the regime. Claudia is emotionally numb, unable to speak about her experience in the famed Olimpo.

Sergio D’Alessandro (Paul Tei) is a frustrated filmmaker and David’s best friend. After the government refused to give him grants to finance his documentaries, Sergio agrees to become the military’s propaganda filmmaker in exchange for Claudia’s safety and eventual freedom. Sergio represents those who negotiated such risky pacts with the regime to protect their families, friends and themselves, and later lived to regret it.

The play takes place in the apartment of Sergio and Claudia in early 1990s Buenos Aires, just days after David’s sudden return from Israel. His visit serves as a catalyst, for all three are forced to confront their pain, their guilt, and challenge their emotional capability to forgive themselves and each other. (On a lesser level, David’s visit resurfaces old resentments between the two men, as Claudia has been a lover and friend to both-and continues to love them both.)

Claudia recounts-for the first time-the torture sessions she endured. David is forced to acknowledge took the easy way out because he was afraid of making difficult moral decisions.

Sergio, outcast, frustrated, and an alcoholic, wants them to acknowledge he too was a victim and be forgiven for flailing.

The play’s stellar performer is Mann. His delivery-his body language and his tone-is charged with emotion. Mann makes us feel David’s cowardice when he tells Claudia he is leaving because he wants to avoid taking a stand. We sense his tenderness when he caresses Claudia, and feel his guilt for abandoning his friends.

Ruderhausen’s performance is weak in the first act. She comes across as somewhat overly nervous. But her performance takes a turn for the positive in the second act. She infuses her character with emotion, specifically when confesses to David’s father she revealed the name of several colleagues during some of her torture sessions. Her most moving moment is when tells David and Sergio she loves them and urges them to pick up the “smithereens” of their souls and forgive so as to rebuild the innocence and peace of which they were robbed.

Tei’s cocky filmmaker is hard to warm up to in the first act; he is terribly arrogant and Diament keeps us guessing about the role he played in Claudia’s imprisonment. But toward the end of the play, he humanizes Sergio. His performance, however, is not as profound as that of his colleagues.

Supporting the main cast are Paul Kwiat, who plays Jacob Rabinovich, David’s father and a Holocaust survivor, and Ken Clement, who plays the colonel, the fascist officer with whom Sergio negotiates Claudia’s freedom. But unbeknownst to Sergio, the colonel repeatedly rapes and tortures Claudia. Both of their performances are extremely strong. Clement’s torture scene is particularly disturbing, yet moving.

The script undoubtedly sounds better in its original language, Spanish, as the English translation does not capture the emotions the way a Spanish-language production would. Also, at times the script it lightly hampered by unnecessary clich