In April and May 2006, Santiago’s streets were filled with hundreds of thousands of students. In black-and-white uniforms they marched in protest for educational reform. The "Penguin Revolution," as it was called, was Chile’s largest student demonstration in the past 30 years, and inspired Guillermo Calderón to write and direct the critically acclaimed Clase--an essential and unforgettable theatrical class.
Photo courtesy Clase
The opening scene shows a depressed, heartless teacher (Roberto Farias) sporting a bloody cut on the side of his face, a symbol of the violence that occurred during the 2006 protests. One student (Francisca Lewin), faithful to the current education system and engaged in Buddha and the Enlightenment, is the only one to turn up to class as her peers protest in the streets. The teacher decides to give her a private lesson, where he spills his political views and feelings. Consequently, a conflict between ideologies of the two generations emerges over anticipation of the future, despair and the precarious possibility of social change.
Clase faces two generations, of the teacher and pupil, and exposes a duality that represents the question that at some point we all face: As Francisca Lewin says, "How long will we fight for what we want?"
Director Calderón breaks away from fashionable theatrical trends of the past 15 years and instead concentrates on the effects of dense words and actions. He challenges conformity with the dark, irreverent humor of the teacher, a cut-up alcoholic who defies the immaculate and exemplary conduct that is expected of his profession. With the teacher's character working in contrast to the sweet, naïve dialogue of the student, the effect is increased dramatic tension.
The simple stage setting mimicks a classroom with a blackboard and a few chairs, but Calderón’s enlightening text more than compensates for the scant visuals onstage. By embracing Chile’s student protests, the provoking dialogue challenges the educational system, teacher-student power relationships and the endurance of social discrimination.
In a play full of political discourse, Calderón says he presents his ideas implicitly to make the content problematic onstage. "This good political vision is also very typical of Chilean theatre," states Calderón. "National theatre has always been very political."
Farias' performance seemed to lack masculinity, which at times broke the sense of reality in the play. However, Lewin’s convincing, delicate and inspiring persona counteracts Farias' cynical character.
Nevertheless, the captivating contingency and lyrical force makes Clase a compulsory lesson for all: to absorb the ideas inspired by Chile’s educational system, and to take in Calderón’s simple yet poignant theatrical piece.
Directed by Guillermo Calderón
Design by Loreto Martinez
Featuring Roberto Farias and Francisca Lewin