Three wild artistic souls–we know this because they’re holding a bottle of wine and looking ghastly next to a flickering fire–sit on a dark street and speak of the unnamed evil they must first summon in order to defeat. One of them catches the others off guard when he speaks of the voices in his head, but they take it as a sign that their mission is righteous. And what good does a concrete plan do these days, anyway? Their enemy is invisible and “always moves underneath.”
Espíritu, a creation of Chile’s Teatro Anónimo presented by the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival, doesn’t point fingers at any one malaise. Rather, it locates the spirit of our current late-capitalist anxieties as just that, a spirit–everywhere and nowhere, hard to understand and even harder to defeat. Described as a film adaptation of artist Trinidad González’s play, it follows three actors as they follow this spirit through different characters, complications, and songs.
The work intelligently connects today’s neoliberal landscape and the Chile of the ‘80s from which it sprung to the ethereal realm of art and artists. The clubby synth beats that score a brief fight between a well-to-do finance bro and a woman wandering the streets mingle with a cappella performances and spoken word interludes like a Marxist Lynchian nightmare.
There’s talk of individual realities and death; fights about money and the value of art; dances that posit folk culture as a bygone salvation. A woman (Trinidad González doing triple duty as writer-director-star), recites a haunting monologue about dreams of creation and harmony, her eyes holding back tears that somehow evade bathos. A young writer (Matteo Citarella) argues with an older man (Tomás González) about the value of punching a wall versus all the “trash going around,” echoing the world’s rapid turn toward vigilantism. Rather miraculously, it all skirts the edges of incoherence by knowing just when to cut to the next scene.
The troupe’s impassioned performances elevate what can sometimes be standard experimental theatre-y leftism, though its release mere hours after Trumpist extremists stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C. liberate its earnestness from sentimentality. What may have seemed a series of vague tirades against those in power yesterday now frighteningly parallels the experience of nervously doomscrolling down a Twitter timeline that gives you dismaying news from all over. There’s the people arguing about capitalism in this thread, there’s the live footage showing domestic terrorists stealing a Senate podium here, and then an unrelated song someone’s retweeted over there.
The haunting final scene, an infernal inversion of the opening call to arms, sees the power of art perverted by those with too much power and too little morality. A naked, androgynous creature––perhaps an actor gone too far, perhaps a demon–convinces a deserted imperialist to “put them to sleep with the poison of abundance,” to “make them believe that they are free.” As they smirk and begin to plan, a lounge singer comes to offer them a toast, and never has the malleability of art seemed so damning.