As part of its International Playwrights series, the Royal Court is offering this play by Colombian playwright Pedro Miguel Rozo that was developed at one of the Royal Court's summer workshops for playwrights from around the world.
An unnamed Colombian village is in a state of social transition. Its citizens are proud of the new shopping mall that has turned them into greedy consumers. We see the effects of the new urban capitalism on one dysfunctional family. Don Jose once was a farmer but now lives in the town. The farm isn't providing any income (Jose obviously hasn't heard of the most notorious Colombian cash crop) and Jose, his wife and younger son are basically being supported by Sergio, his older son, the successful manager of the new mall. Well, actually Sergio is not his son. Jose's wife was pregnant with him when she and Jose married. Jose both claimed him but emotionally rejected him. Twenty-two year old Carlos, the favored younger son, is a basket case -- a gay bipolar fantasist. In the bizarre gender logic of the play, these sons are the symbols of the new capitalism. One a material success but ignoring his own wife and supporting but resenting his parents; the other a homosexual and a bit of a prostitute to boot. The mother who tries to hold this family together gets all her life lessons from movies she watches on television. The central figure in the community seems to be the psychiatrist who tries to get the citizens into long term therapy so he can by a big SUV.
The narrative turns on a "did he, didn't he" situation. Don Jose has been accused of having sex with the young son of a woman who works on his land. The scandal rocks his family. His sons begin to believe he abused them as well. In a strange Oedipal gesture Sergio pays for the lawyer the woman uses to sue his father. The boy's mother, a former prostitute, is using the accusation to blackmail Jose and his family. Jose's wife tries to hold her exploding family together.
OUR PRIVATE LIFE is correctly billed as a black comedy. The plot is soap opera (Rozo writes television dramas in his native country) but with a comic twist until the creepy final scene in which we find out the truth. The play is always interesting, sometimes clever, particularly in the scenes with the psychiatrist, but at times its sexual politics are odd. At the end, homophobia seems to be satirized, but at other times, the play seems homophobic. The father's pedophilia seems to be related to the rural culture before modernization and the mall. He loves pre-pubescent boys but finds homosexuality disgusting. Actually the real byproducts of capitalism are a dissolution of traditional social structures and a rise in paranoia. The psychiatrist says "paranoia is all the rage here. We're making progress every day, we're leaving the dark of the parochial church behind and we're moving into the bright lights of the city and science . . ." The strongest paranoia is about pedophilia.
Lyndsey Turner's production of Simon Scardifield's colloquial translation is sometimes a bit uncertain in tone. I found the play funnier than the production made it and actors seemed to be playing in different styles and tones. Colin Morgan as Carlos, Ishia Bennison as the mother and Adrian Schiller as the greedy psychiatrist are superb at finding the dark humor in their roles. Morgan, particularly, gives a terrific, manic performance. Eugene O'Hare is fine as the older son. I thought Anthony O'Donnell miscast. I couldn't imagine this paunchy little man as the former rural patriarch. He was creepy from the beginning so the final scene in which he nastiness and pedophilia are revealed wasn't the surprise it should have been. The director and cast should have been forced to watch lots of Bunuel from his Mexican period and early Almodovar before they began rehearsals.
Colin Morgan is a teen hearthrob over here because of his starring role in the tv show MERLIN, so a third of the audience at the Saturday matinee I attended were teenage girls, some of them Muslim girls wearing headscarves. I couldn't help wondering what they thought of this raunchy play with its talk of anal penetration. Would an American actor in his position play such a role? One of the funniest moments in the play is when at Christmas dinner Sergio divulges that Carlos has been "taking it up the ass" from his boss at the restaurant where he has a menial position. Carlos replies, "They don't pay me enough . . . And if it's any consolation it's Edgar who's in love with me not the other way round. That makes me less gay." Prostitution and homophobia -- the new Colombia.
OUR PRIVATE LIFE. Royal Court Jerwood Upstairs Theatre. February 26, 2011.