Miss Margarida's Way
Also see Rosemary's review of Moonlight and Magnolias
The opening night audience in the beautiful Wells Fargo Theatre of the National Hispanic Cultural Center jumped into playing the game of rebellious students shouting back to their provocative psychotic teacher. Debi Kierst, Head of the Drama Department at Sandia Prep, plays Miss Margarida. She may have incorporated some tricks from her day job into performance as she bantered and ad libbed with the those in the audience who took up her challenge: scolding, insulting, flirting, and remembering the names of everybody who spoke up.
Director Linda López McAlister says, “What's most fun and most challenging about this absurdist political allegory is that it is interactive theatre in which the audience plays the role of The Class. Some may sit passively in their seats in the face of Miss Margarida's questionable teaching 'methods,' but others reactsometimes in unpredictable and outrageous waysso the show is different every night.” By making the audience part of the show and taking appropriate liberties with the script to make it relevant in today's U.S.A., McAlister elevates the arts community of Albuquerque into interactive collaborators fighting the power.
Roberto Athayde debuted this play he's subtitled A Tragicomic Monologue for an Impetuous Woman in his native Brazil in 1973, where it was quickly closed down. Brazil's military dictatorship didn't miss the political satire. Miss Margarida is the clenched fist of church and state combined to crush the common people.
Since then the play has become an international classic produced around the world. Athayde says that he conceived the play as a global satire on the will to power from parents, teachers and government. State-sanctioned Roman Catholicism constrains the students in its iron cage. Miss Margarida asks whether any students are named Messiah, Jesus or Holy Ghost. When no one responds, she screams at them, calling them all morons and masturbators.
Miss Margarida's Way assaults the audience on a variety of levels. It echoes the 1920s surrealist challenge: epater le bourgeoisie. If you aren't shocked and disturbed, you must be comatose. The depiction of vicious brutality as female harridan, harpy, shrew instinctively offends me. The over the top "All men are homosexuals or faggots" makes me wince. But I can't stop laughing. By making the audience complicit in our own bondage to seductive authority, the playwright foregrounds gynophobia and homophobia as mass hysteria.
The play was first produced in the United States at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco in 1977. That year it opened to a larger audience at New York's Public Theatre with Estelle Parsons in the role of Miss Margarida. I was lucky enough to see this New York premiere 33 years ago, which I've never forgotten. It won the NY Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Parsons toured all 50 states and several foreign countries.
In this first Albuquerque production, Debi Kierst is every bit as dazzling as I remember Estelle Parsons. From the moment she enters from the back of the audience, Kierst's deep resounding voice takes command. With a supple body trained as a dancer or acrobat she preens and vamps. We can't take our eyes off the embarrassing spectacle of her gorgeous and grotesque narcissism.
Kierst has performed leading roles at other Albuquerque theatres, including Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, Gertrude in Hamlet, and Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst.
Tim Harland, an Emory University theatre student from Los Lunas, plays Miss Margarida's student as a timidly naughty boy who'd like to rebel. McAlister has cleverly given him a bit more of a role than is written in the script by having him attempt to lead an audience rebellion during intermission.
Camino Real Productions presents Miss Margarida's Way in the Roy E. Disney Center for Performing Arts at NHCC through July 25, Thursdays at 7 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays 2pm. The NHCC, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Hispanic art and culture at the local, state, national, and international levels.
Tickets are $12 general admission and $10 for seniors, students, and NHCC and Albuquerque Theatre Guild members. Purchase them at the NHCC box office or Ticketmaster outlets and Ticketmaster.com. The NHCC is located at 1701 4th Street SW on the corner of 4th Street and Avenida César Chávez.