Tú Amarás (You Shall Love) has a lot on its mind, but it leaves us to figure out what that is on our own. This challenging work has stronger ideas than execution.
Bonobo, an experimental Chilean theater company, is making its U.S. debut at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. This 85-minute play centers on a group of Chilean doctors presenting at an international conference on prejudice in medicine about how to humanely treat a fictional group called the Amenitas. The Amenitas are from another planet and have adapted to life on Earth, but there’s unspoken hate from humans around them. The five doctors have three days to prepare for their presentation, and as time passes, they attempt to defend their dignity while questioning if their beliefs make them terrible people in and out of the hospital.
Irony and hatred in day-to-day interactions are the perfect vehicles for us to reflect on our biases and how minorities are othered. Helping things along is Gabriel Urzúa’s standout performance as the only immigrant doctor in the group. He triggers a collective loss of control and sudden questioning of everyone’s principles. After all, condemning immigrants has always been a way to silence them.
Bonobo has been addressing political correctness and violence in Chile since 2012. Director and playwright Pablo Manzi tells Chile’s Centro Gabriela Mistral that Bonobo’s mission is to work in social spaces where discrimination happens implicitly and unconsciously. His goal is to explore how we create an enemy where there is none, and Tú Amarás achieves it.
The sterile set illustrates the disconnect between the doctors via four rectangular tables that together enclose the actors and forces them to examine their thoughts and actions in a confined space. Above the tables is lighting reminiscent of a squared operating room lamp. The intensity remains the same for most of the show, with the exception of the lights turning red during a critical scene. The symbolism behind each character’s actions is marked by red lights on the tables. This square is the main lighting fixture for 80 of the 85 minutes (the prologue only features a lateral spotlight, so we don’t see the conference setup) and also projects translations and time lapses for the audience, which adds to the cerebral nature of the play.
When it comes to the amount of thought and effort that Bonobo puts into this show, it’s too bad the sound design and certain approaches to dialogue weaken the otherwise powerful narrative. Frequently, a character’s name is mentioned once only in the middle of the argument and often you’re still missing the other person’s name. Lines, even when delightfully delivered, are hard to follow before knowing the characters’ names. After a while, this sameness gets irritating.
The inconsistent music by Camilo Catepillan includes an instrumental track that I mistook for background music as I waited for the show to start. The track still doesn’t capture the eeriness behind this social critique when it plays later on. You can tell the performers are competing with the track so we can hear them.
All this said, this is a poignant play which gives an opportunity to see Chile’s first-tier, contemporary performers, but it still needs work on how best to present this message.