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STUPIDITY (LA ESTUPIDEZ)
Argentine writers and artists are not generally well known outside of Argentina, with the exception of Jorge Luis Borges. His short stories are dazzling intellectual puzzles in the form of labyrinths, gardens of forking paths where multiple dimensions of time and space proliferate and mirror each other in brain-twisting fashion.
Argentine playwright Rafael Spregelburd has written a Borgesian farce, set in a series of identical Las Vegas motel rooms in which five actors morph seamlessly into a couple of dozen characters entangled in multiple sub-plots. Spregelburd’s Stupidity (La Estupidez) only hints at the intellectual density of Borges. But in Theatre Conspiracy’s English-language premiere production, it’s one of the funniest plays Vancouver has seen in years.
The various plots have to do with a trio of corrupt gay cops, a couple of shysters trying to sell a phony painting to a variety of sleazy rich people, a scientist who has an invaluable secret about the future of the earth and a son in trouble with the mob, a trio with a scheme to beat the house at blackjack, an investigative journalist, good time girls, and more. As you might guess from the title, none of them—except the scientist—shines in the brain department. And he sells his story to a gossip magazine.
What does dazzle here is the work of the five performers under the slick, high-tempo direction of Richard Wolfe. Each one excels in a variety of characters, each with a distinctive comic tic and cheesy accent. Moving in and out of Al Frisk’s cleverly simple set, a generic motel room with three doors, they change into one after another of Barbara Clayden’s wonderful costumes and transform in record time offstage. After a few scenes, the audience’s anticipation of who will enter through which door into which scene as which character is almost as much fun as the performances themselves.
It’s hard to choose favourites. There’s Allan Morgan’s blowhard cop, hilarious Japanese businessman, and blond-wigged party guy, Naomi Wright’s gagging girlfriend and mod English con-woman, Johann Helf’s Texas oilman and angry son, Alex Zahara’s barbecuing neighbour and Mafia heavy, Nicole Leroux’s talkaholic honey and wheelchair-bound mute. A scene in which Morgan and Zahara’s cops and Leroux’s mute try to communicate in sign-language had me laughing so hard I thought I would hurt myself.
Credit needs to go to Crispin Whittell for his superb colloquial English translation, and to stage manager Jaimie Tait, ASM Cameron Mackenzie and dressers Dennise Velasco and Norine Webster for maintaining what must be an insane backstage pace.
Although a few scenes go on too long, I didn’t want this show to be over. Who knew that Argentines, Vegas, or stupidity could be so much fun?