As the World Turns went off the air, but the Public Theater has a much better orb spinning on its stage. El pasado es un animal grotesco is played on a giant, steadily revolving turntable—a device that lets you see the characters’ eccentric lives morph right in front of your eyes. The Argentinean play, written and directed by Mariano Pensotti (co-presented here by the COIL and Under the Radar festivals), tracks a handful of young people in Buenos Aires over a decade’s span, as they meet mates, separate, and reconcile secret inner lives with external events. The subject alone would not make unusual material, but the production’s kinetic form takes Pensotti’s spare neo-naturalism to an exalted level.
The slowly rotating performance disc divides into four rooms, all of them inhabited by Pensotti’s committed four-person cast, who move from zone to zone and story to story, each playing various characters in fluid sequence. Entering each space as it rotates center stage, the quartet (Pilar Gamboa, Javier Lorenzo, Juan Minujin, Maria Ines Sancerni) picks up one storyline before scrambling next door to change roles in another. (One actor generally narrates in third-person while the others simultaneously act out the scene described.)
This unrelenting structure has some limitations—especially the slightly irritating, uniformly omniscient tone of the nonstop voiceovers, which bring to mind European films from 50 years ago. But the company’s virtuosic shape-shifting ultimately prevails. As multiple narratives accumulate, the tug of time becomes more and more palpable. Patterns, coincidences, causes and effects in these stories reverberate across years—while you watch the actors refocus from moment to moment. Pensotti’s globe never stops, even when the stage is stripped bare in the final moments. By that time, you won’t want it to.