Plaga; not quite skin-crawling enough

In a TV top 100 of worst sounds ever, the scuttle of cockroaches marching across a kitchen floor or the angry roar of a swarm of wasps would have to be up there. Compañía La Puerta’s “Plaga” [Plague] which played at Matacuna 100 throughout August began with the noise of flies buzzing around the auditorium even before the curtain went up. It all sounded as if it were going to be skin-crawlingly good. In the end, it just left you feeling a bit itchy.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Matucana 100

Touted as a re-write of Chilean dramatist Alejandro Sieveking’s play “La Mantis Religiosa” (The Praying Mantis), “Plaga” was in fact only very loosely based on this 1971 tale of female sexual repression.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Matucana 100

Split into 3 stories, the first (and most engaging) focussed on two lonely sisters who are plagued by thousands of different insects. They call in the exterminator, a quiet, lugubrious man who they invite to live with them. It’s a claustrophobic battle to save the house from being eaten from under them, not helped by the intensifying sexual tension between the characters.

Meanwhile, two bored security guards watch over a mysteriously abandoned warehouse without knowing why and a single woman embarks on a journey to avoid her past. While they begin to question the strange noises they can hear from within the building, she starts to wonder whether she can ever escape from herself.

It’s an unsettling piece - at times reminiscent of Beckett or Kafka – and visually very inventive. Security cameras played with the audiences’ ideas of reality, flashing images across the white screens of the set so that the viewer was never quite sure whose perspective they were seeing.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Matucana 100

Cleverly staged, video was used most effectively when showing the swarms of insects multiplying under the floorboards. There were some solid performances too, most notably from the chubby Chilean night watchman and the awkward, insect-plagued older sister.

However, although the 3 stories were intertwined, ultimately “Plaga” felt fragmented and unfinished. It had the unsatisfying feel of a collection of short stories, with none of the meatiness of a novel or a plot you could really get your teeth into. It fell short of being gloriously weird and was a little too disjointed to be emotionally engaging.

It’s a shame, because “Plaga” is one hell of a title.

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