Anton Chekhov’s famous dictum that if a gun is introduced in the first act, it must go off by the second is reimagined in Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco’s Kiev in the seemingly innocuous form of a diving board. No one literally goes off the board into the stinking murky waters of the pool on the Badenweiler estate, soon to be demolished by steamrollers. But what it hides has poisoned the whole family.
The parallels to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard are deliberate. But Blanco, whose work receives its dynamic and absorbing U.S. premiere with Aguijon under Abel Gonzalez Melo’s direction (in Spanish with English supertitles), has more than the economic disruptions of one family in mind. And that pool, in which matriarch Eiren Badenweiler’s child drowned years earlier, isn’t just about that earlier tragedy. The Badenweilers are representative of any family living under–and complicit in–the horrors of an authoritarian state, like the one that dominated Uruguay in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Eiren (Rosario Vargas), like Madame Ranyevskaya in Chekhov’s play, is torn between past and present, and depends upon generous helpings of denial to help her deal with her pain. But that denial has come at great cost to her disabled son Alden (Oswaldo Calderon) and daughter Dafne (the luminous Marcela Munoz), who soothes her own pain in opiods when not trying to smooth the conflicts among everyone else. Uncle Esvald (Sandor Menendez) has kept the estate running over the years–but for what purpose?
The arrival of Tavio (Israel Balza), the former tutor for the drowned boy, threatens to uncover everything Esvald has tried to hide. But his own guilt (and the disaster unfolding in the city of the play’s title) means that a true healing reckoning can’t be found. “The civil atom is as dangerous as the military atom,” Esvald observes at one point. In Kiev, that civil danger lives on; remorseless, relentless, and inescapable. v