Arístides Vargas’ La Razón Blindada is a powerful story of friendship inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Kafka’s The Truth about Sancho Panza. More importantly, though, it is based on testimonies and the true story of a group of people who made theatre to cope with the violence of their reality as political prisoners during Argentina’s dictatorship in the 1970s.
The play follows a few weeks of the lives of two prisoners, known to the audience only as De La Mancha (Gerson Guerra) and Panza (Vargas), in jail where ‘everything is real but reality’. The men meet on Sundays to go on wild imagined adventures together to mentally escape the confines of their cells. Their gleeful escapades are captivating and humorous but marked by terror: the stories are cut short frequently with an anxious whisper, ‘Watch out’, perhaps warning of a passing guard. The rapid Spanish and excitable gesticulations of the actors contrast poignantly with the silent spells, a contrast that descends to painful in the silent sections of the play between the pair’s meetings where the men are alone and illuminated by a harsh red light.
The play is deeply political, highlighting the struggle of Argentina’s political prisoners. Guerra and Vargas perform the entire play seated as the prisoners were not allowed to stand. This is a powerful directorial choice and the most striking use of this technique is a scene where De La Mancha and Panza spin round the stage on their wheeled chairs, holding each other and wheeled tables, ‘flying’. They seem so liberated yet in reality they are brutally confined, raising the play’s central question of freedom.
La Razón Blindada is a piece of touching humanity. The play subtly discusses a vast range of subjects including sex, drugs, spirituality and language and features a particularly funny rant from Panza about the plight of dogs in his ‘role’ as Toribio the greyhound. The conversations of the men are ridiculous and borne out of prison boredom but the friendship they forge through them is spectacular. Vargas and Guerra have an intriguing dynamic that is not quite best friends or father and son and it suits the obscure nature of the play perfectly. I love Vargas’ reappropriation of the Don Quixote figure, elevating him from the completely useless dreamer of Cervantes’ novel to a man who, through his dreams, is Panza’s saviour.
Due to surtitle problems on the night, an uncertain amount was lost in translation for audience members who were not fluent in Spanish. However, there is still a lot to be gained from this production and Vargas’ poetic script is apparent even from unsynchronised translations. La Razón Blindada is a bittersweet tribute to the power of imagination with a message that makes a deep impression on its audience.