Big-budget shows can land helicopters on a stage and crash massive chandeliers, but Bolivia's Teatro de los Andes creates an earthquake that shakes viewers to the core — using little more than a series of pulleys and dust. More a 65-minute piece of living artwork than a play, this ensemble performance pulls no punches when it relays the testimony of survivors who endured the devastation of a 1998 earthquake, as well as the aid and reconstruction, which were severely hampered by political corruption. A quartet of performers handle various roles, including the earthquake, to tell a story that most Americans don't know but that will resonate with anyone who has been thrown into turmoil by nature.
The piece's first jarring moment comes after the introduction, as five pulleys violently upend furniture and sections of houses, and even take the clothes off a man's back. From there, nameless characters — portrayed by Lucas Achirico, Daniel Aguirre, Gonzalo Callejas, and Alice Guimaraes — describe where they were and what happened during the earthquake, which killed mostly children. At times, actors don brown coats and toss around dust and other actors on stage, giving body to the earthquake. The second section details government promises unmet. The audience is allowed to take out its anger by throwing paper rocks at politicians. As expected, there's no resolution, only a statement written on a turned-over table that reads, "Where misery reigns, there is no democracy."
Writer-director César Brie builds chaos on stage, quickening the pace and the level of dust and debris with each passing minute. The remarkable performers exude reverence for each person they represent. Their varied characterizations, from lying politicians to grieving parents, ring true. The technical aspects are impressive, in particular the pulleys that toss and destroy homes and disrupt lives. Brie's use of dust spewing from actors' mouths, representing their being buried in the rubble, is startling. And the dark lighting design and intense sound, co-designed by Giampaolo Nalli and Danuta Zarzyka, envelope the theatre with a sense of sadness.
The evening is presented in Spanish with English supertitles, which gives rise to the production's only fault. Because of the staging, the supertitles are on both sides of the stage and not in the middle, making them harder to read while watching the action. And you won't want to miss a moment here.
Presented by Center Theatre Group, International Latino Theatre Festival of Los Angeles, and Teatro de los Andes at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m. (Also Mon. 8 p.m. Nov. 19. Dark Nov. 13-16 & 22.) Oct. 28-Nov. 25. (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.