By Thomas Brennan

Based on a real-life, 1960s, bank heist pulled off by four criminals, the chase by a corrupt law enforcement officer, and the siege where the criminal protagonists make their final stand, Plata Quemada is a play that carries itself on both strong performances and bold direction with its integration of graphic novel elements.

It at first seems like a production where there are no heroes, only a story where each character who enters is competing to be even harsher than the last. This production isn’t content to do that though. It takes its time in humanizing the criminal protagonists while never fully justifying the atrocious actions or depriving them of consequence. The story builds a sense of intimacy and rawness in the criminals’ dynamics. It’s obvious how awful and dark these characters are and that they’re still relying on one another like a castaway to wreckage. Each of the actors play multiple roles in the story, and though it can be hard to track at certain moments, each performance is always either a gut-punch or a heart-wrench in some form.

Plata Quemada is the latest play of the season, adapted from Ricardo Piglia’s novel, and at the Emerson Paramount theatre from March 11 to 15. Directed by Juan Carlos Zagal and is produced by Teatrocinema, which Zagal co-founded.

All of the technical aspects of the production are as much a delight as the performances themselves. The graphic novel elements and animation on a stage seems like a risky concept, but this technical choreography works. The use of lighting and the backscree are done to a masterful degree. From the starting scene it’s obvious the power this play will have with its use of props, angles and lighting. It brings a dynamic and energetic movement to what could have been otherwise straightforward and less interesting scenes. 

The only thing that distracted was the use of subtitles. The choice to assure all the spoken lines were kept in Spanish was definitely the right move as it kept the feel of the production authentic in a historical context and made it feel more immersive. In certain moments the subtitles kept from giving full focus on the performances. It was surprising the play never went the route of word bubbles as traditional graphic novels do; potentially adding even more to the play from the medium they’re pulling inspiration from and sidestepping more inherent issues with subtitles altogether. 

The film is provocative and mature in its portrayal of violence, but it balances itself that while it pushes the envelope, that it never feels like a line is crossed unnecessarily. The climax is heartfelt while still feeling like an inevitable path for the story. The end message and its motif of the burning money was also incredibly poignant. It creates the question of how material wealth is able to incite more anger in the populace than the actual gruesome loss of human life along the criminals violent trail.

Plata Quemada is definitely a unique piece with a strong message that amounts to an absolute must see for anyone looking for a great show.

 

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