Although I don’t often preface my reviews, I think this particular write-up deserves one. As I reflect on my viewing of Goodman Theatre’s current Encore showing of PEDRO PARÁMO, I find it important to note that I’m writing about a production that took place eight years ago. The Goodman presented Cuban theater company Teatro Buendía’s PEDRO PARÁMO in 2013, in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art. The immense theatricality and experimental nature of Teatro Buendía’s production make clear why this was a fitting co-production between the Goodman, the MCA, and Teatro Buendía. And the Goodman’s decision to allow audiences to revisit (or experience for the first time) an international theater collaboration feels poignant at this time. The chance to see this collaboratively produced piece feels like both a nostalgic exercise and one that reminds us of the hope for such kinds of artistic collaborations in the future.
Written by Raquel Carrío and directed by Flora Lauten, PEDRO PARÁMO is a theatrical adaption of Mexican author Juan Rolfo’s novel of the same name. The cast includes both local Chicago performers and Cuban actors, which adds to the excitement of the collaboration. Chicago theater regulars will likely recognize Goodman Theatre Artistic Collective member Henry Godinez, Charín Alvarez, and Sandra Delgado among the cast members — all formidable performers who do excellent work here. It centers on a young man named Juan Preciado, who ventures to the Mexican town of Comala after seeing visions of his late mother in his dreams. She urges him to visit Comala and inquire about his father, the titular Pedro Parámo. Based on the fact that Juan shares with the audience that he can feel his mother’s voice calling to him, we have the sense that PEDRO PARÁMO exists in a liminal space.
Lauten’s production itself is similarly ethereal. Though the narrative tells us the story takes place in the town of Comala, the production does not feel grounded in any tangible physical space. Rather the production design itself feels ethereal in every sense, creating an aesthetic that’s overall eerie and dreamlike. This also befits the parallel narratives of Juan and his father Pedro, who both seem in a state of transition. Juan appears so because he’s looking for answers to his family’s history, while Pedro himself seems unmoored in life and in love — hardened by his past.
This ethereal aesthetic is particularly interesting and unique. The production overall feels experimental, and the specific choices and experimentation with different presentational styles is a beautiful reminder of what live theater can uniquely offer to audiences. Teatro Buendía’s production choices are not the kind of aesthetic we could find in a streaming series or through other art forms — it’s a lovely reminder of what I miss so much about live theater and what I anticipate upon its return.
PEDRO PARÁMO blends spoken dialogue and song. Although the song elements convey narrative points, the music is more like a critical piece of the production’s aesthetic. It contributes to the eerie vibe, and the production often shifts abruptly between dialogue and song. Similarly, PEDRO PARÁMO seems to flit from vignette to vignette. Again, this adds to the production’s eerie qualities, but that also makes it a bit difficult at times to sink your teeth into the narrative focus. But perhaps that might be intentional — both Juan and Pedro seem adrift, and the production underscores that transitional state.
The ensemble works together to further enhance the production’s dreamlike state, often appearing as a collective, otherworldly unit. In the title role, Godinez is captivating and embodies Pedro’s hardened, uneasy state. Sandor Menéndez makes Juan an immensely affable character, though sometimes he seems a bit too relaxed considering all the character is experiencing. As Pedro’s most significant love interest Susana, Alvarez is the embodiment of grace.
In terms of film quality, PEDRO PARÁMO was also a wise choice on the Goodman’s part. The archival quality is solid, and the film capturing provides a good mix of wide shots that allow viewers to see the entire set and also intimate close-ups that focus on the actors. I anticipate that as we navigate the post-pandemic theater world, many organizations will start to focus on producing high-quality archival for footage. For now, the Goodman was smart to pick this particular title.
The transitory feel of PEDRO PARÁMO also makes it a timely choice. As we start to imagine what the “new normal” make look like over a year into the pandemic and hope for the return of live theater productions, PEDRO PARÁMO’s melding of past and present feels prescient.
Goodman Theatre’s Encore of PEDRO PARÁMO streams FREE through April 11. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Pedro to reserve your complimentary e-ticket.
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com