Program Type: 
Mariano Pensotti

El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal)

February 16, 2012 - February 18, 2012
YBCA Forum


Mariano Pensotti
El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal)
Thu-Sat, Feb 16-18  •  8pm  •  YBCA Forum
Thrifty Thursday, Feb 16 only – All Tickets $5
Fri-Sat, $25 Regular/ $20 YBCA members, students, seniors, teachers

Thu, Feb 16: Post-show Q&A with the artists
Fri, Feb 17: After the show, we invite you to join us in celebrating the opening of Mark Bradford and Audience as Subject, Part 2: Extra Large. Hold on to your tickets to gain access for FREE.

“[Pensotti creates] a compelling portrait of the self-obsession of his own generation that achieves that rare feat of profoundly moving an audience without ever descending into trite stereotypes or easy sentimentalism...The production is also blisteringly funny.”

Maria Delgado, Plays International

YBCA welcomes Argentine writer/director Mariano Pensotti, a rising star in Latin American theater, in his first American tour, with his highly acclaimed El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal).  Taking place over 10 years from 1999 to 2009, the piece is a funny yet moving portrait of a generation that follows the lives of four twentysomething characters through a decade of economic and personal turmoil in which their dreams collapse and the world around them changes in unexpected ways. As in many of Pensotti's pieces, the audiovisual elements are integral to the play's structure, creating a cinematic dimension.  The action deftly unfolds on a revolving circular platform that both conveys time’s ceaseless march and divides the action into four spaces in which vital moments in the characters’ lives play out. A cast of four actors represent not only the four protagonists, but also take on an array of secondary roles in each other’s stories, often changing  character with as little as the addition of a pair of glasses or a shift in pose. Through the carefully controlled, fast-paced, overlapping story lines, characters and action, Pensotti illustrates how quickly and easily real life can transform into fiction and back again. In Spanish with English subtitles.



Is it possible in these times to create great fictions that contain what we imagine together with real events from our lives and the lives of the people we know?
How does the history of our cities influence our own personal history?
What happens when fiction is set within a concrete temporal framework?
How can we recount ten years in the life of a person?  How do we incorporate the most recent history—upon which we haven’t reflected in excess—into our own more excessive stories?

The stories from four characters over ten years, from 1999 to 2009. Brief, interspersed fragments tell the individual stories of four people from Buenos Aires between the ages of 25-35, the moment one stops being who one thinks one is to become the person one is, with the occasional reference to the socio-economic changes in those ten years.

Some of these stories focus on everyday situations, whereas others more on the extraordinary. Some include documentary or autobiographical elements and some others plunge openly into fiction. In turn, each story drifts and branches into smaller secondary stories.

The attempt is to narrate a multiple array of stories, in the manner of the excessive nineteenth-century narrations, in which ambitious and exorbitant fiction is contained within a precise historical and temporal framework.

The play is acted by only four actors, enclosed in a rotating round stage. They alone embark on the heroic task to narrate and perform that multiplicity of stories, bringing to life dozens of characters and situations. A mega-fiction which is narrated with minimum stage resources.

Ten years ago, I started to collect damaged photos that a photo lab near home would throw away every month. I didn’t know what for. The lab closed down a while ago; hardly anyone has their photos developed nowadays. I went back to look through the damaged images that I’d collected. Blurred and discarded fragments from the lives of strangers. Many seemed to be people from my own generation: a faulty chronicle of a decade.

I remembered a quote by Balzac, in which he talked about his art as the attempt to “photograph the soul of people and their time”. I decided to take some of the photos and try to recreate the ambitious spirit of these nineteenth-century narrations, telling the stories of four characters of my generation over ten years. I used the damaged images as the basis upon which to create them.

The result was a highly narrative literary text, full of events and quite-impossible-to-represent situations, and at the same time with much freedom.
I thought of the idea of “the identity as a narrative construct”: we are what we narrate.
And also in how life becomes fiction.

Aided by the epic effort of four actors that tell and perform a multiple array of stories, the past arises in this play as an animal glimpsed in our dream jungle. An animal that changes shape each time we remember it. A grotesque animal.

The starting point of the four main stories: a man wants to be an independent filmmaker but for now he works as an actor in pathetic beer commercials; a woman steals her father savings to go to Paris to live the bohemian life of nouvelle vague films and ends up working in a thematic park that reproduce the life of Christ; a girl discovers that her father has a parallel family in the countryside and become obsess with them; a student and amateur writer receives a box with a severed hand inside that changes his life.

From a narrative standpoint, the play develops a singular procedure. The situations performed—what’s actually seen—are brief moments acted in real time and cinematographically, which show a specific moment in the life of each character.

At the same time, a live narrator—one of the actors themselves—tells the audience what’s happening with the characters in that moment, functioning like a voiceover.  Sometimes the narrator tells what’s happening to the characters and at other times, their thoughts.

Narrating the past is like using a voice-over that could give sense to the scattered fragments of a film that is lost forever. The past is like a strange animal which should be invented and trapped following blurred traces.

The Past is a Grotesque Animal is the title of a song by the band Of Montreal. I listened to it a lot while I was writing the text. Its excessive duration and ambitious narrative made me feel it close to what I was developing. I decided to use the name and include the lyrics in the play when the stories reach their end.

Text & direction : Mariano Pensotti
Performers : Pilar Gamboa, Javier Lorenzo, Juan Minujín, Julieta Vallina
Set & costume design: Mariana Tirantte
Light design: Matías Sendón
Assistant director: Leandro Orellano
Music: Diego Vainer
Production: Grupo Marea
Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires, Theaterformen (Hannover), Norwich & Norfolk Festival, Festival de Otoño de Madrid

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  • El Pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal)
    Feb 16, 2012 8:00pm
    Feb 17, 2012 8:00pm
    Feb 18, 2012 8:00pm
    YBCA Forum

    Thu, Feb 16: Post-show Q&A with the artists, moderated by Roberto Varea (USF).
    Fri, Feb 17: After the show, we invite you to join us in celebrating the opening of Mark Bradford and Audience as Subject, Part 2: Extra Large. Hold on to your tickets to gain access for FREE.

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Curator Statement

With Mariano Pensotti’s production of El pasado es un animal grotesco, YBCA continues our commitment to bringing to the Bay Area provocative international performance works. While every country and culture, of course, has a broad range of art and artists, we find that theatre is especially strong in Latin America, so we are thrilled to be presenting this groundbreaking work of theater from Argentina.

I’m often asked why YBCA, which has such a strong rootedness in the Bay Area and its artists, has such a strong focus on work from other countries. My immediate responses often take the form of “our globalized world” or “the home countries of many of the immigrants that comprise the population of San Francisco.” These statements are true, of course. But it’s more than that.

I’m intrigued by the idea of thinking about ways of connecting people through art and culture. How is it that Latin America, and specifically Argentina, developed such a robust culture of theater, and especially politically engaged theater? Why did that happen there and not here? What is behind the thinking of an artist like Mariano Pensotti to create a work such as El pasado es un animal grotesco? What was in his life, and his environment, that compelled him to create a work such as this?

Beyond that, what does the work say to us? Is it possible that there is something in the work that “we can all connect to,” or is that a comfortably liberal ideology that in fact is not true? Can I connect with him? With his work? Can he speak to me? If not, why not? As humans, are we to be forever distanced from each other through the lens of cultural production?
There is something in the human condition, I think, that does strive for connection. Across continents and across cultures, we yearn to know each other, to understand each other, to see ourselves in each other and to wonder why we’re alike and why we’re different.

So we are going to keep exploring the work of artists from other countries and cultures in the hopes that the shards of insight that are often at the heart of an artistic experience reveal themselves to us through the work of others. Let me know if that experience works for you here.

Kenneth J. Foster
Executive Director

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Artist Bio

Mariano Pensotti (Buenos Aires - 1973) studied cinema, visual arts and theater. His performances have been presented in Argentina and in festivals and venues in Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Latvia, Brasil, Canada, Japan, Austria, Spain, Chile, England, Denmark and Switzerland.  He has won numerous prizes for his work including a Rozenmacher, a Clarin and a Premio F; and received fellowships from UNESCO-Aschberg, the Rockefeller Foundation, Fundación Antorchas and Casa de América de Madrid.

Q&A Facilitator Bio
Roberto Varea began his theater career in his native city of Cordoba, Argentina. In the U.S., he has directed numerous productions, particularly in Latino-Chicano performance. Roberto is the founding artistic director of Soapstone Theatre Company, a collective of male ex-offenders and female survivors of violent crime; El Teatro Jornalero!, which brings the voice of Latin American immigrant workers to the stage; Secos & Mojados, a performance collective of immigrant artists; and the recently created Teatro TransFronteras with Latina transgendered women. He is currently the director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas (CELASA) and teaches courses in performance studies at the University of San Francisco. His two-volume anthology, Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, has just been published by New Village Press.


by Maria Delgado
Buenos Aires

The set for Mariano Pensotti’s El pasado es un animal grotesco/The Past is a Grotesque Animal also has something of a magic box about it.  A merry go round of sorts, it spins before us as the ever-shifting stage for the enactment of four intersecting tales: four characters, four fictions, four actors, four worlds that collide and merge, make contact and then move apart. Mariana Tirantte offers a revolving set of rooms in which each of the four stories are enacted: a metaphor for the time that passes in Pensotti’s play (ingeniously directed by the author) in an inventive production that functions as a document of a decade in the life of four Argentine twentysomethings, themselves a metaphor for the wider social, economic and political histories of a nation that was taken to the cusp of disaster in the 1999-2009 period covered through the play.

El pasado begins as aspiring musician Mario (Juan Minujín) meets Dana (Pilar Gamboa) and romance blossoms over Jacques Demy films. Laura (Julieta Vallina) wants to escape her humdrum life in Buenos Aires for Paris and runs off with her father’s savings to live out her dream only things don’t quite work out quite as she’d planned. Pablo (Javier Lorenzo) finds a strange packet delivered to his apartment containing a severed hand; his attempts to try and find out where the hand came from and why it was sent to him lead him on an adventure that comes to haunt him over the course of the following decade. Flicking through some family photographs Vicky (Gamboa) comes to realize that her father has another life with a second family and it intrudes on her peace of mind to the point where she has to track down and clandestinely observe this other life that her father has kept hidden from her.

These four tales each take place in their own self-contained space, a set where spillages occur as characters from the four different worlds fleetingly come into contact with one other. The stories are connected by the four actors that each step out of their roles to take on the part of a narrator that stands outside the action, explaining who is who and warning of things to come: heartbreak and grief, death and loss, breakups and the beginnings of new relationships. One actor passes the microphone to another as they move in and out of character in a fluid intertwining of narratives. The device is part-Brechtian commentator, part cinematic voiceover and it effortlessly binds the different narrative strands into a compelling portrait of a generation of porteños [the inhabitants of Buenos Aires] trying to make sense of their lives in changing times. Each character is conceived in broad brushstrokes gradually and persuasively refined as the action progresses. The vain Mario, part-slacker, part-wide boy; the anxious Pablo who thinks he has something of Mick Jagger about him but is actually closer to Woody Allen in his compulsive neurosis; the unlucky Laura who bounces from one inappropriate partner to another; the tormented Vicky who can’t shake off her obsession with her father’s second life.

There is something symphonic in the rhythm of the piece, as voices overlap and scenes play over each other, one seamlessly moving into another in a brilliant conception of the play’s sense of time as a something always moving somewhat too fast for our immediate control. The production is also blisteringly funny: whether it’s Vicky coming to terms with an accidental castration at the vets where she works, Dana and Mario’s post-it notes to each other scattered around the walls of their flat like butterflies or Laura’s performance as Mary Magdalene in a theme park life-of-Jesus extravaganza. Pensotti is able to ground the characters’ adventures and misadventures in both the local and the global in ways that never seem forced or excessive. Indeed the production’s impact lies in the ways in which the national and the international, local and global, domestic and the foreign, the personal and the political intersect and comment on each other. Islamic fundamentalism, economic recession, emigration, the collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001-02 all form part of the backdrop that feeds into the characters’ encounters and journeys.

The cast of four each take on one of the quartet of protagonists while further occupying a range of secondary cameo roles. Juan Minujín is unforgettable as a puppet-like morgue attendant who rambles at a bemused Pablo; Javier Lorenzo creates a very funny Flavio Galván. These are actors that inhabit the different roles only to then shake them off at the snag of a finger. There are four primary stories but each features a multiple cast of friends and family, work colleagues and associates. It only takes a shift of the head, a different pose, the addition of a pair of glasses or a jacket to create a different character who enters into the action for a scene or two and then moves out of the stage world to make room for others to come and further develop the stories. At times the effect is that of watching the different frames of a comic strip. Diego Vainer’s lithe music effectively underscores the action offering hints as to mood and tone without ever giving too much away.

There are humorous nods to the commodification of the New Argentine Cinema; to the infatuation with branding, marketing and hard sell; to the Macdonaldisation of theatrical productions into products that can be easily exported from nation to nation, evident in even the briefest glance at Buenos Aires’s theatrical offerings. The narrative voiceovers also harken back to the early films of François Truffaut with both Minujín and Lorenzo evoking something of the young Jean-Pierre Léaud in their looks and mannerisms. Pensotti is able to somehow bind this all together in a compelling portrait of the self-obsession of his own generation that achieves that rare feat of profoundly moving an audience without ever descending into trite stereotypes or easy sentimentalism. The boxes that line the peripheries of the stage as the production progresses serve as a telling but understated reminder of the time that has passed. The production leaves Buenos Aires for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels (May 26-29) and the Festival de Otoño in Madrid (June 3-6). Pensotti’s site-specific La marea was one of the highlights of last year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival, creating a series of lively vignettes across the shop windows and streets of Norwich. El pasado is a different kind of production but no less memorable or audacious and well worth catching on its European tour.

YBCA’s programs are made possible in part by:
Abundance Foundation
Koret Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Novellus Systems

YBCA Performance 11–12 is made possible in part by:
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 11–12:
Zellerbach Family Foundation
Panta Rhea Foundation
Cultural Services of the French Embassy
New England Foundation for the Arts
and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts