‘What is the Duchamp Syndrome?’ one might ask. Without robbing you of the experience, I’ll tell you right away: it is a lesson. Captured by the sensibility of Antonio Vega – hold back from trying to guess where he’s from for a while – and shaped by the senses of Ana Graham – yes, her as well. (I’ll tell you, I promise.) Along with a talented team of artists, The Duchamp Syndrome tells us about the human experience of wanting to expand oneself into a size larger than life. Even if you shrink in the process. Through Antonio’s and, in this production, as the shadow, Omen Sade’s talented hands, Juan’s solitude and witty attempts to sell to his mother the beauty of a life he wish he’d acquired in America, this play unfurls a world of magic and sensibility right before your eyes and ears. Out of Juan’s will to be heard, a multitude of voices appear on stage. And oh how magnetic they are.
Antonio Vega, a playwright and actor from Mexico – see? I told you I’d get there – and residing in New York for a while now, once mentioned during the rehearsal process: ‘Sometimes I become so lonely I literally start making friends’. On that note, the experience – polished by the very capable senses of Ana Graham (she’s from Mexico, as well) – that’s shared with us through the character of Juan, a Mexican immigrant working as a janitor in a comedy club, transcends nationality and becomes about all of us. Running at a varied pace and exploring a wide range of emotions, this production leaves us many breadcrumbs leading to emotional pathways we’ve all walked or will walk sooner or later. So why is it a lesson? Because it teaches us that before anything else, we’re cut from the same cloth. Because, much like one of Juan’s most precious discoveries in the play, we’ll eventually all feel like we’ve been stripped of our natural functions and turned into something else with no apparent use – a feeling shared by many immigrants. People who leave their nation where the fact that they’re citizens doesn’t translate into benefits or proper support once they’re abroad; People who shift contexts and master the skill of living between a rock and a hard place, often times becoming silent or being silenced in the process. People whose unnoticed existence support the routines of thousands who march on unaware of the hands that swept the floor they walked across or produced the good their inertia depends on. Voices that, despite not being heard, are still voices that carry lessons about life that are worth learning.
A part of PlayCo’s 2014-2015 season and a co-production with Mexico’s Por Piedad Teatro, The Duchamp Syndrome is a precious jewel that shines timidly in the New York theatre scene. I’ve been in this country for a little under two years – yes, I’ll tell you where I’m from soon enough – and I can already tell that most of the movement practiced in theatres here is inward. American plays that talk about the American experience to seasoned Americans. While there is nothing wrong with that and that has its merits, it sure is a relief as an international artist to see the brave and insightful souls at PlayCo open the ports to a multitude of voices, encouraging them to flood NYC and turn our ears upside down, pulling us back out into the world. Through their invitation and work, we’re given seats into other sides of America. Because by expanding the repertoire of the American theatre, we expand our understanding of America; Because, and this resonates with my education in Brazil as a theatre maker and teacher, the human experience can never be completely represented by only one angle, one point of view, one language, one truth. The Duchamp Syndrome wins because it begins on the inside and it spreads out. And the miles it reaches… It is only by experiencing it that you’ll see a whole new theatrical landscape. Now, a word of caution: if my words make it sound gigantic, it is not. And that is precisely why it is so poignant and necessary, much like the work done by PlayCo. Enough of my impressions of this play. Go make your own and share them. Take part in the multitude of voices! And be sure to measure yourself afterwards. You’ll understand why!