These trees are made of blood- English review
Our pain is our strength: it reminds us
this should never happen again
Some plays, you like them because of the story. Some, because of the acting.
Some, you like them simply because you can’t do otherwise, for no apparent reason.
Can cabaret be a form of act apt to convey deep historical and political messages? To my surprise, yes, it can.
I decided to go see “These trees are made of blood” simply because of the topic it deals with: Argentina’s military dictatorship and the desaparecidos. Once I saw the title of the play, I immediately decided I would go and see it: the topic has been (and still is) crucial in my education as a lawyer, in my interest for international criminal law and in my political ideals for too long. I felt it was inevitable.
Despite this decision, given my limited appreciation for ‘musical cabarets’, I was sincerely skeptical about the potential outcome.
Yet, not only the play was worth watching, it was actually both a very enjoyable experience and a moving play.
While the first act was perhaps a bit too much funny for my personal taste and given the topic, I shall recognize that the choice of using a cabaret style, involving the public in several parts of the play (applauding upon request, as a support for the military; illustrating how a selection of people to be purged with a simple game of looking at different air balloons: pink, greens, or reds should be eliminated; hypnotising us like torturers or politicians persuade their supporters) revealed itself to be a smart idea indeed. Smart and funny. Or at least, so it seemed.
The same participation we complacently engaged it during the first half, turned into (at least) a passive resistance during the second one, after the crimes of the military junta were not simply revealed to us (I assume most of the public was already aware of them before), but perfectly re-enacted before us.
This re-enactment allowed us to realize our personal rejection of any complicity with the acts of the military. It was without doubt a masterstroke, and it could not have been achieved without our previously amused participation during the first half.
If there is any description of what the role of a theatrical play in shaping consciousness should be, that was it.
Yet, the second half had much more to offer.
It was a collection of emotional strokes, a sequence of hammering representations of the suffering, of the courage, of the memory of the Argentinean people who resisted or simply suffered because of the dictatorship. Such an intense sequence that it would be hard to name which part was the most moving: by mentioning just one, I’d feel I was mistreating and under-evaluating others.
This half opens with a burlesque-style dancing of a military officer over the sound of people narrating their own experiences of being tortured, but perhaps the most evocative moment comes immediately afterwards, with a girl miming being tortured with electric shocks at the rhythm of a music the same officer pretends to play, not to mention the waterboarding, so terribly similar to a fellatio. Personally, I almost jumped on my chair the first time one of the Mothers de Plaza de Mayo shouted “Presente!” as response to the name of the desaparecida girl. Also the reference to the role of the United States (School of the Americas) recalled with a strip-tease was very evocative.
If there is any description of a theatrical play demonstrating the power of a physical portrait in shaping emotional responses of the public, this sequence of torture was it.
A quick representation of the trials to the military dictators follows (slightly historically imprecise and not doing complete justice to Alfonsin’s presidency, in my opinion), leading to the conclusion: an intertwining of the stories of the “disappeared” girl, her mother and her daughter, which closes the play.
Perhaps this conclusion was the most touching moment of the entire piece: through the image of cooking empanadas, previously used as metaphor for retiring into private life and avoiding political activism, the women reconnect their stories.
“I never taught my daughter to cook empanadas” says the mother, wearing the white scarf symbol of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
“I never got to cook empanadas with my mother”, says the girls who had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the military, “even thought I wanted to”.
“I will never cook empanadas with my mother”, says her daughter (born as consequence of the rape suffered while in jail), “but I will with my grandmother”.
While I expected to like this play because of its underlying story, I was rather skeptical whether cabaret would be the appropriate narrative choice. Yet, I had to change my mind: the entire acting was not only technically very well performed, but also perfectly in line with the complex topic illustrated. It entirely captured not just my attention, but my feelings as well.
A play you simply like because you can’t do otherwise.