Few lines in the theater have a more ominous ring than “Tonight, dinner has to be perfect.” As an invitation to calamity, it ranks right up there with “We’re in love—what could go wrong?” and “Now I shall divide my estate among my three daughters.” Of course the supper party at the center of underneathmybed, Florencia Lozano’s gothic reminiscence at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, turns disastrous: Spilled wine spoils the tablecloth, fistfights break out, thousands of Argentinians tortured and killed during the “Dirty War” demand a place at the table. And the paella burns.
Lozano, a soap opera actress and first-time playwright, has written a phantasmagoric piece, in Spanish and English, based on her émigré girlhood in Massachusetts. In the play’s opening moments, an older woman (Vanessa Aspillaga), clearly Lozano’s surrogate, surveys the set and inaugurates the memory play. “The house still stands,” she says. “At least I hope it does.” Then she throws off her sweater and transforms into 12-year-old Daisy, the youngest daughter of an Argentinian family circa 1982.
Though Lizbel (Paula Pizzi), Esteban (Ed Trucco), and their three girls have fled South America for less perilous climes, they can’t forget the terror they’ve left behind. Daisy is particularly afflicted. She hallucinates a doppelgänger and watches as this twin is raped, beaten, and electrocuted.
Playwrights such as Erik Ehn and Neal Bell have successfully combined domestic drama with nightmare, but Lozano struggles to achieve such a balance. Original strokes vie with clichés, and she seems undecided as to what to render explicit and what to leave mysterious. Pedro Pascal, an actor making his directing debut, doesn’t help her to differentiate, demanding the actors play each scene at fever pitch.
With so much anguish marking even the serving of deviled eggs, the appearance of actual victims of torture doesn’t produce much of a shock. Yes, there are horrors lurking underneath the bed, but also beneath the table, behind the door, below the sink, and smack in the middle of dinner. This excess suggests Lozano could use a dramaturge. And, perhaps, a Ghostbuster.