Our regular readers will remember we recently managed to sign up our first international “recruit”, Katelyn Simone, whose profile you can read under her photo, and who we met thanks to a magnificent article she wrote about her culinary experiences in our country. Like many things in life, one thing led to another, and now this oboist and journalist has become our “correspondent in New York”, and she’s now on staff. We’re extremely pleased and grateful to have her on board.
With her new New York correspondent profile, she published an article about her visit to the hometown of that most universal of Basque composers, Maurice Ravel, on March 13. Now, two months later, she’s gifting us this article, again on Basque culture.
Between April 9 and May 8, New York hosted the NYC Basque Window, a festival organized by the Basque Delegation in the US and the Etxepare Euskal Institutua, which helped spread the dramatic arts, literature, and music of our country. At The Theatre at St. Clement’s off Broadway, we could see Kirmen Uribe, Mikel Urdangarin, and the Kulunka Teatro.
Some of the events that have already taken place are the presentation on May 3 of the latest book by author Kirmen Uribe. Another was the concert given on May 9 by Mikel Urdangarin as part of his 25 Tour, his way of celebrating his quarter-century on the stage; an album is forthcoming.
Another Basque Window event is still on: the renowned play André & Dorine by the Kulunka Teatro can still be seen at The Theatre at Saint Clement’s on 46th and 9th from April 29 to May 29. This show started its international tour in 2010 at the prestigious Manizales International Theater Festival in Colombia. Since then, it’s been shown in more than 30 countries. It tells the story of an older couple fighting dementia.
And it is this Basque theater group, who had already planned on going to this theater before joining the event organized by the Basque Delegation in the US and the Etxepare Euskal Institutua that our correspondent spoke with.
This article summarizes the conversations and personal perceptions of our correspondent, Katelyn Simone.
Kulunka Teatro’s Andre and Dorine is a play right on time—and out of it
Katelyn Simone, New York Correspondent
On a recent Friday night, I found myself preoccupied with time–and not just because I was running late in a dash across 46th Street. My destination was the Theatre at St. Clement’s for the New York opening of André and Dorine, a touring play presented Off-Broadway by the internationally-acclaimed Kulunka Teatro. From the moment I (finally) sat down, I was whisked through the poignant story of an elderly couple faced with the onset of illness and tragedy, and an intimate reflection on the finite time we share with those we love.
Kulunka is mask and physical theatre company and conveys these universal themes using specific theatrical means. The play is entirely wordless, relying on physical gestures and everyday objects (plus a typewriter and a cello) to drive the action and meaning; I have never laughed so much at a sweater or been so moved by pieces of paper and socks. Perhaps most distinctly, the three actors use a handful of large, caricaturesque face masks as a canvas for creating some 15 characters.
These tools are not what you’re thinking about, though, as they propel you through short, light, scenes of domesticity. André and Dorine opens in the home of two elderly artists: she a cellist, and he a writer, the couple trades barbs as each to pursue their comically incompatible disciplines. A steady stream of humor–as straightforward as bathroom jokes and a flirtatious nurse–weaves throughout the story.
Nothing about this is precious or saccharine, though. It’s clear that the couple shares a real, imperfect relationship, long entrenched in mutual indifference; it’s also evident that Dorine’s diagnosis of dementia is about to upend everything. The frustration of these dynamics feels familiar to anyone who has ever been in a family.
For the play’s writers, this broad relevance is essential and intentional. Ahead of the show, I caught up with Garbiñe Insausti and Edu Cárcamo, two of its performers and co-creators. Cárcamo emphasized that “the most important thing is that everybody can understand every action in the same way…this is a show without borders.”
And in fact Kulunka, which hails from Basque Country, has performed André and Dorine in over 30 countries; audiences across regions and cultures respond similarly to the narrative arc (with local inflections of degree; the Chinese seem to be more demur than, say, the Colombians). Insausti noted that audience members worldwide tell them, “‘thank you for telling my story.’ And then you go 100 kilometers, and it’s: ‘thank you for telling my story.’”
Dementia, the seventh leading cause of death globally, helps fuel the play’s relatability but is not intended as a primary theme. “This is something that came up in the rehearsals,” Cárcamo noted. Testing scenes with friends, the Kulunka writers saw the power of what they were experimenting with–that “the material was big” and needed treated “with love and respect.” To this end, they researched dementia and spoke with healthcare professionals. As Insausti shared, “the steps of the disease inform the plot the play, and helped us feel the story.” The element is seamlessly incorporated.
One example of this is composer Yayo Cáceres’s musical score, which serves nearly as a character and briskly ushers the action along with a whimsical melody; I’ve been hearing it ever since, and don’t mind at all. One of the score’s handful of tunes is rendered by Dorine on her cello–though tellingly, less and less recognizably.
As other reviewers have noted, the potency of this play is hard to describe. Among the scenes that affected me most were those portraying the couple as young lovers. Andre stumbles in all his awkward vigor onto the stage, followed by Dorine, now a vibrant boheme with cello in tow and played with startling freshness by Insausti. Compared to the entrenched indifference of prior scenes, Andre’s attraction is palpably magnetic and urgent, and fumbles of early courtship uncomfortable lifelike.
What drives the impact here, though, is the presence of the elder Andre, completely still and watching from the dark of the back of the stage. We watch him watching and feel the gravity of his knowledge that this, like all phases of life, is not coming back.
The reality and irony of love is that in tending for someone’s needs, your own may go unfulfilled. Andre is losing not only his companion and partner, but also the most important witness to his life’s consummate achievement: the publication of his final book. As he pushes past his discomfort, Andre responds in the way he knows best and chronicles all the years of Dorine’s and his life together. Yet, with her mind deteriorating, Dorine doesn’t understand the stories he wrote down.
In the final, inevitable scene, humor again mingles with this poignancy as we chortle Kundera-style at an unplanned pregnancy, while also sniffling into our own masks to see the lifecycle begin all over again, as it does.
Andre and Dorine has been part of Kulunka’s repertoire for over a decade (it first premiered in New York in 2012). At this point, it feels both ripe and mature, but also fresh. “I always want to perform Andre and Dorine,” said Cárcamo. “Even 12 years later. We always feel better after.”
After experiencing the performance, I knew what he meant. Though short, Andre and Dorine holds you in its sweet embrace, or kulunka–the word for “rock like a baby” in Euskera, the unique language of Basque people. The play’s wordless poetry grounds us in the moment of, as Cárcamo put it, “being in love and then you are out of time, at the end.”
“There are always things we want to explore and expose without giving any answer,” Insausti added. “Sometimes the audience says after: I want to call my mother and tell her I love her. That’s a very good reason to make theater.”