Chilean play Diciembre earns rave reviews at New York festival

The play, part of a trilogy written and directed by Guillermo Calderón, is the first Chilean piece to be featured at the Under the Radar Festival in New York’s prestigious Public Theater, alongside works from the US, Germany, Belarus and Haiti, amongst others.

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This year’s Under the Radar Theater Festival, held at New York’s well-known Public Theater from Jan. 5 to Jan. 16, included its first ever work by a Chilean director and playwright: Diciembre, created and directed by Guillermo Calderón with his company Teatro en el Blanco.

Diciembre (December) was one of 19 plays from around the world performed at the festival, all of which were personally selected by Under the Radar’s Artistic Director Mark Russell and Associate Artistic Producer Meiyin Wang.

Set on Christmas Eve in the year 2014, the play imagines a near-present dystopia in which Chile finds itself at war with its neighbors. A young man, Jorge, returns from the front lines to spend the holiday with his pregnant sisters in Santiago, which is surrounded by Peruvian armed forces.

Like Mr. Calderón’s other works, Diciembre was developed and written with the actors. It has since travelled across the world, making appearances in Scotland, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia as well as New York.

In the words of prominent New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, Calderón and his actors conjure “a scary, empty new world that is just a hair’s breadth away from the one we know today.”

In his review of the play, Mr. Brantley compared Calderón to a “young Edward Albee in an unusually laid-back mood,” noting his similarity to the almost-surreal, incisive social and political commentary that have made Albee one of the most important playwrights of the 20th century.

Part of a trilogy of plays, along with Neva and Clase, Diciembre appeared at the New York festival as a co-production with Fundación Teatro a Mil, the organization behind Latin America’s largest theater festival, Santiago a Mil, currently underway in the Chilean capital (www.santiagoamil.cl). Artistic Director Mark Russell had initially seen the play at its first New York appearance at the 2009 Stage Festival, an annual showcase for international Latino theater.

Drawing plays from around the country and the world, the Under the Radar festival keeps its pulse on what is most interesting and current in the global theater world. The 19 plays featured in this year’s edition represented work from 15 different countries, several of them collaborative.

According to Associate Artistic Producer Meiyin Wang, Latin America is a particularly exciting place for contemporary theater. “The amount of support coming from governments there is very exciting,” she says.

Ms. Wang noted current productions in Santiago as particularly rich. “A lot of exciting work is coming out of Santiago a Mil right now,” she says, drawing attention to the festival currently underway in the Chilean capital.

Diciembre may be the first Chilean play featured in the Under the Radar, but if Chilean writers and directors like Mr. Calderón continue to produce such a high caliber of work, it is unlikely to be the last.

This post is also available in Spanish