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Guillermo Gentile is the David Lynch of playwrights: either you get his work or you don't, either you fall into the fantastic and misshapen spell he weaves, or you leave the theater disturbed and confused. Challenging and surrealistic, his With Folded Wings won the 1989 Best Play Award from the Argentinean Society of Authors, and his work has been translated into eight languages and performed in 22 countries. Obviously a large audience appreciates his funky, but ultimately magical, form of storytelling, which he dubs "fantastic realism."
Gentile describes a desire to return audiences to their grandparents' laps, where as children the first lessons of life were taught "through a fantastic understanding of reality; beyond any logic." In other words, the playwright conjures up adult fairy tales, filled with sorcerers, hunchbacks, dark towers, and space men.
Having enjoyed a successful run, mainly in Spanish, at Teatro Marti last year (where I first caught up with the work), a group called Infinite Imagination now revives his play, mainly in English, at The Carrusel Theater. Unlike some works given bilingual productions, Gentile loses nothing in the transfer. This translation contains all the humor, warmth, and insight of the original version, with the only problem lying with the pacing, particularly during the first act, where the more verbal Spanish fills in necessary gaps and better conveys the material.
Coming out of the grand tradition of Latin American author-shamans, Gentile injects heavy mood, music, and nuance in order to build layers of meaning. Like the deceptively simple scenarios of Marquez, Cortazar, Neruda, and other metaphysical writers, With Folded Wings may be about a lonely hunchback finding comfort through love, or about a man in spiritual desolation who is about to discover the presence of God.
It opens in a tower of little warmth, save a wrought-iron table covered with pornographic magazines. At this bleak altar perches Igor, a grotesquery of a man, humped both in back and front, who dials numbers at random and makes suggestive comments - albeit politely - to young women on the other end. At first sight, he's the vilest of creatures, pitiable but obscene nonetheless, although Gentile in the role manages to hint at a kindness beneath the ragged surface.
Then everything changes, as the roof doors mysteriously open, and into his bleak reality steps Chloe, candelabra in hand, a cloaked vision of beauty. Coming from an odd monastery in "the holy land," she cherishes a simple button Igor gave her as a child, twenty years ago. More important, she's there to remind him of something essential: he's not a horny hunchback supporting himself through bit parts in films like Island of the Monsters. In her eyes, he remains Imre the Winged Messenger, an angel from another planet whose grand wings flutter within the enormous humps.
To Chloe and other believers like her, Imre must renounce his "renegade" status and acknowledge an ability to fly, or none of their flock will be rescued by extraterrestrial brothers. While she searches the sky for signs and flying saucers, Igor (Imre) humors her because he wants to get into her pants.
The rest of the action centers on this conflict of faith versus logic, money versus magic, and love versus cynicism. Almost until the bitter end, Imre views Chloe as a "moonie" - a religious maniac - unable to accept her deformity, too easily comforted by the lies of their so-called leader, Le Petit Mage. Chloe pities and hates Imre's cold perception of life, hammering against it with all her heart.
But don't think this piece sinks from too much philosophy, because it doesn't. For instance, the issue of the "Holy Poker" renders just one of many funny moments. Igor recognizes the game as a way hunchbacks cheated villagers out of money, but Chloe performs it as a cherished ritual, complete with chalices and chimes.
The play contains some rough spots - mainly overstatement of the same point - and this production suffers from poor sound and even poorer lighting effects, which were not a problem last year in the smaller Teatro Marti. As mentioned, the pacing needs improvement and the first act may leave some audiences without the clues they desire, but by the end, most find they're helplessly drawn into the poignant story. What makes Latin metaphysicians so compelling is precisely this trick - rather than being hit over the head with plot and premise, both elements insinuate themselves gently, like a puzzle worth solving.
As Imre, Gentile contorts both body and emotions as honestly as possible in the realm of acting. An imp with a soul, he maintains reality in a diverse and challenging role. Linda Reyes, a New York veteran, faces an equally difficult task - creating the passionate visionary with unshakable beliefs, but making her palatable. Sometimes Reyes waxes a bit too beatific, but, like Imre, you can't help but fall in love with her.
With Folded Wings wanders far from typical, and for that reason I heartily recommend it, especially to those - of all ages - who retain youthful faith and open minds.
WITH FOLDED WINGS (CON LAS ALAS ENCOGIDAS) written and directed by Guillermo Gentile; with Guillermo Gentile and Linda Reyes, at The Carrusel Theater, 235 Alcazar Ave, Coral Gables, through May 3. Performances in English on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m.; performances in Spanish Sundays at 5:30 p.m. Tickets costs $13 to $15. Call 532-7200 for more information.