By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
The Design District's striking yet desolate Buena Vista building is the perfect site for Cuban director and playwright Victor Varela's first Miami-based creation, Nonato en Utero, a disturbing piece of Spanish-language theater that explores cloning, immigration, and the regeneration and destruction that make up the birth process.
A sterile woman (Barbara Maria Barrientos), who has been implanted with a genetically manipulated embryo, falls asleep in a delivery room. In a voyage to her subconscious we find ourselves in a live organism, a large uterus if you will, inhabited by genetically altered embryos (Jesus Perez and Gerardo Maidana) who will never be born, and a fetus (Jorge Palmer) named Nonato (or unborn), characterizing "creation" in a sterile womb without blood, placenta, or umbilical cord. The sinister Morbo (Reinaldo Gonzalez Guedes) appears to wield the power as he offers Nonato the possibility to be born. Consequently Nonato becomes a symbol of hope for the embryos -- if he can be born, so can they. But then he announces his birth is impossible because he has apoptosis, a degeneration of cells. The embryos revolt and look to blame various political systems (namely communism and capitalism). They attempt to destroy the uterus, but Nonato recovers and is eventually born. Trained by Varela at Academia Teatro Obstaculo,these actors deliver startling, dynamic performances.
Nonato en Utero is disturbing theater not only because of the complex ethical issues it raises about cloning, but also because of the disconcerting picture it paints of humanity. Still it miraculously manages to make science human while simultaneously sifting human realities through a sieve of formula and theory. At one point the pregnant woman assumes the brisk, matter-of-fact tone of a scientist and explains the cloning process while pointing to maps of Cuba, Argentina, and Miami drawn on the naked torso of a mannequin. This reference to the playwright's double exile from Cuba to Argentina and finally Miami cleverly extends the play's metaphor from the artificial birth of cloning to the imposed rebirth of immigration.
Varela's set design is appropriately institutional as large plastic tubes wind around the room, inflating and collapsing menacingly. Stark white, asexual baby dolls of various sizes sit in corners, hang on the walls, and fill shopping carts. Alfredo Triff's haunting violin and a frenetic, electronic diatribe later add a palpable dimension to the already bleak setting.
Nonato en Utero paints a frightening picture of the "industry of the 21st Century" -- but is it cloning or immigration? Either way, the play exposes us to the human traffic of being born, unborn, and reborn in new surroundings. In Varela's theater, the uterus is infinite. It is both womb and petri dish, experience and experiment. The uterus is the impenetrable island of the playwright's birth as well as the fecund ocean that envelops it. Varela's iconoclastic Teatro Obstaculo is probably as far from commercial as any theater group in Miami (Spanish- or English-speaking). It's about taking risks and creating obstacles that perhaps only art can overcome.