Diablomundo mixes present, past and future


The right of every person to pursue the utopian vision in a liberal society whether it be unrealistic fancy or not is a recurring theme in the experimental works of Diablomundo, one of South America's foremost theater groups.

Based in Loma de Zamora, a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the versatile company of six young people is staging its original play, "Memories, Dreams and Illusions," at Theatre Project through Sunday.

In America for a nine-week developmental and performance residency, the Spanish company is producing a series of workshops in Philadelphia and Bethlehem, Pa., under the auspices of the Project.

Diablomundo's present production employs the artists' various skills as puppeteers, actors, clowns, musicians, writers and directors. The company weaves larger than life puppets and Spanish and African music sounds into the tapestry of a magical morality tale using elements of Italian commedia dell'arte.

"Memories, Dreams and Illusions" is concerned with three generations of freedom pathfinders who turn the negative elements of their lives into positive action.

The expressive puppet faces, delicately carved by former company member George Sansosti, reflect the oppressive results of life under dictatorial regimes. The creation of the larger than life figures is a joint group project.

Composed of rubber, foam, Styrofoam and cloth, some are mounted high on sticks and others are attached to the puppeteers' waists. Others are worn over the puppeteers' bodies and heads giving an eerie, surrealistic effect.

Taking a break from rehearsal, the group gathered in the theater's conference room recently to relax over a traditional Spanish drink known as yerba, a bitter green tea high in caffeine which they drank from hollowed-out gourds through metal straws.

"It keeps you going," says Carlos Uriona, who founded the company six years ago with fellow artist and brother, Roberto. "We are a cooperative, there is no director. Everyone knows different skills," he says in soft-spoken, articulate English flecked with Spanish intonations.

The other actors -- Miriam Gonzalez, Ibis Perla Logarzo, Roberto Uriona and Marcelo Frasca -- concurred.

"We collaborate, complement each other," Uriona says. "We are not subsidized by the government, but we have a very good working relationship with the government. They are a big contributor. We have a four-year contract with the official theater of Buenos Aires, Teatro Municipal General San Martin."

The versatile group tries out new forms of its particular stage techniques in its studio in Loma de Zamora. "Our works are always based on the Latin American conception of art," says Frasca who is playing the pivotal role of the sad little clown Fenelon in the show.

"We are trying to show the world the artistic Latin American way of theater arts. It is very contemporary," Frasca says.

"A strong root tradition like the past is always there mixing the present with the future."

On July 10, Diablomundo's new work, "Salamanca," will have its world premiere at Towson State University and stay for a three-week run. A Theatre Project production presented by the Maryland Arts Festival, the play centers on a traditional Spanish tale of a man seeking secret knowledge.

Commissioned by the Theatre Project, "Salamanca" has been funded in part by the Pew Charitable Trust.

"We have invested two years work and $40,000," Uriona says. "We have translated all our life experience . . . Spanish cultural rituals, stronger images and new dramatic tension into the show."

"'Salamanca' is larger in every way . . . in props and music and different puppetry conception," says Frasca. "There is only one puppet, a mythological horse, as big as the stage. And the characters will be more serious . . . thinkers.

The shaky political climate of Argentina comes into focus in much of Diablomundo's works, always in metaphorical form.

"We have had years of military government," Frasca says. "We have been very bad. People disappearing and never heard from again. Every day a big scandal . . . crooked politicians, corrupt military and big business."

"Now we have a young democracy but it is weak," Uriona says. "But our country has built up the fourth power, the press, which keeps the democratic system going . . . safe. We attempt to tell a social condition, a political situation through our art," he says.

"Memories, Dreams and Illusions" continues at Theatre Project through Sunday. Tickets are $10 to $16. For performance times and further information, call the Theatre Project box office at 752-8558.

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