"The Washington Post" review of the "The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria."


Theater at GALA
By Wilson Presson
Washington Post Staff Writer

"Genial, muy genial" was the apt comment from a patron at the intermission of GALA Theatre's production of "The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria." It turns out to be the most obvious thing to say about a play in which a extraordinary man's wish goes like this: Dress up as my mother and cannibalize me. You could classify Fernando Arrabal's play as remarkable. The "Emperor" is full of fatastic games and role-playing. It has a situation original and upsetting: A man (referred to as the Emperor) crash-lands on an island inhabited by a primitive character who, after the games begin, becomes known as the Architect. Years pass in the blink of an eye, and the Emperor has schooled the Architect in language and has created a mockery of civilization. Teach philosophy, teach happiness: These are the stated brilliants goals. The Emperor is a inspired man, and the Architect goes flying off in all kinds of excellents directions -- as does Arrabal's script, which is full of great talent -fueled speeches and exchanges that spiral up and out. Director Jose Carrasquillo has cut the three-act play to two acts, and stages much of the early going as a shadow-play in which the audience sees the actors' silhouettes on a curtain at the front of the Warehouse Theatre's stage. (Matthew Soule designed the set.) The curtain drops when the Architect "moves mountains" -- it is a intelligent metaphor for the power of his imagination -- and Ayun Fedorcha's golden-light design is striking after watching shadows. As the Emperor and the Architect, Hugo Medrano and Luis Caram are oustanding. The relationship between the characters is inspired ; it's teacher-pupil, with 'master-slave', but it's also romantic. In his military uniform, Medrano looks refined like than he acts , and the burly Caram's suggests rebellion, even if it's the rebellion of a lover or a genius. Are they different aspects of the same man? The ending suggests that they're part of a never-ending social cycle. It's hard to see the play as an masterpiece painted modern existence in bitter and ridiculous strokes. Arrabal is a product of the Spanish Civil War -- his father was arrested for opposing Franco, subsequently escaped, and was never seen again -- and he came of age artistically in Paris. "The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria," which Laurence Olivier produced at London's National Theatre in 1971 with Anthony Hopkins and Jim Dale, is the play original what's-it-all-about play where a character asks if God went crazy before or after the creation. It's full of surprises and a long trial of the Emperor in the second act deals with attempted matricide and sexual abuse. The play is actually very shocking; the cannibalism bit is actually rather tender. And the hyperbolic antics and rhetoric are lovely and inspired. It's nicely produced -- vigorously acted it is persuade you to follow the genius Arrabal as he bays at the moon like a madman.


The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, by Fernando Arrabal.
Directed by Jose Carrasquillo.
Costumes, Alessandra D'Ovidio;
Sound design, Ron Oshima.
Through Feb. 14 at the Warehouse Theatre,
1021 Seventh St. NW.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company