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A CurtainUp Review

"This speaks to me," thinks Lucas, without quite knowing why.
The above quote may well be the best reflection on Cineastas, one of the offerings at this year's Under the Radar festival (UTR) at the Public Theater by Argentine writer-director Mariano Pensotti, who brought his memorable The Past is a Grotesque Animal to the Radar's festival in 2012. His new piece (in Spanish with English subtitles) is about four filmmakers who devote themselves to creating films over the stretch of a year, each hoping to place a mark on his or her culture.

Okay, this is hardly an original idea. But the idea spins into theatrical gold via its dual-level staging at the Public's Martinson Theater. Pensotti, who has gained international fame for his experimental theater work, is well-known for using the set as "narrative mechanism." In fact, his The Past is a Grotesque Animal employed a revolving set that presented four narratives in rotation, creating a multiplicity of myths neatly encapsulated into a whole.

Pensotti's current double-decker design — the upper-level dramatizing the films-in-progress, and the lower-level depicting the real lives of the film-makers — is ideal for showing you the complex relationship between the artist and his (or her) art. Without oversimplifying the creative process, this filmic drama allows you to eavesdrop on artists as they succeed and fail in their chosen medium. It also charmingly exposes how film makers often hit-and-miss as they insert dialogue and action into their project before its final wrap. And though the quartet here aren't strictly drawing on autobiographical material to create their fiction, each project gets impressed with their distinctive artistic thumbprint.

To enjoy this highly experimental work, you will have to let go of your traditional expectation of a theater work unfolding in linear-style scene by scene. The method here is more conceptual, where you get impressions of character's lives as well as their psychological state-of-mind. In short, it proceeds in will-o'-the-wisp fashion, and though it delivers only fragments of stories, it packs an emotional wallop by bringing the film world up close and personal.

The narration, spoken in turn by the five members of the ensemble, works like a voice-over and ultimately becomes the theatrical glue of the piece. Cineastas never becomes too talky, however, as each scene incorporates dynamic stage business, in which the dramatis personae try to resolve the dilemma confronting any serious filmmaker: How does one manage to take an idea for a film and capture it within the constraints imposed by the reality of the film medium.

Ironically, the work succeeds without any cameras, film footage, or conventional props that would suggest a film studio. No dolly shots, no simulations of any traditional technique that one associates with movies. This is a theater presentation in the most literal sense: flesh-and-blood actors traversing the boards. And, strangely, though the medium here is theater, Pensotti forces one to think and clarify one's ideas about the power (and limitations) of film today.

. While all four stories are riveting, perhaps the most poignant one is about the film maker who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. He begins to see his film-in-process as perhaps his last chance to make a "time capsule" (including shots of his most treasured objects) for posterity-and to explain himself fully to his young daughter.

Another film maker creates a character that is kidnapped and forced to wear a Ronald McDonald costume throughout the day. Some of the fictions gain true gravitas by their epic-nature, others turn into surreal farces or threaten to fizzle out via writer's block. But all share one thing: the human impulse to connect, and speak significantly, to other human beings.

Unfortunately, Cineastas had only five performances at the Radar festival, with its last performance on January 11th. But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of other theatrical pickings at UTR that just might alter and broaden your view of contemporary theater and its artistic reach. Celebrating its 11th anniversary, the UTR Festival is dominated this year with a "memory" theme or motif. So, by all means, take a close look at the festival schedule on the Public's website . Many of the experimental works presented at this perennial event in the East Village can create lasting memories and open your eyes to cutting-edge theater across the globe.

Written and directed by Mariano Pensotti
Cast: Horacio Acosta, Javier Lorenzo, Vanesa Maja, Juliana Muras, and Marcelo Subiotto.
Sets and costume: Mariana Tirantte
Music and sound: Diego Vaine
Lighting: Alejandro Le Roux
Stage Manager: Leandro Orellano
The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village, Tickets: $25. Tel. 212-967-7555 or visit
From 1/07/15; closing 1/18/15.
Running time: 1 hour; 40 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/07/15
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