Review: “Pluma” pushes boundaries
Ashley Kronebusch, Staff Writer
Bitingly relevant and deeply unsettling, the play “Pluma and the Tempest” opened on Thursday night at Augsburg. Translated and directed by Beliza Torres Narvaez and written by Arístides Vargas, “Pluma and the Tempest” is a magical realist tale telling the story of the titular Pluma. Portrayed by two actors, Pluma is born and immediately runs away from their parents into the dangerous city where they meet many strange people and contend against the harsh realities of the dystopian world.
The atmosphere of “Pluma and the Tempest” is often dreamlike, and the play can only be interpreted through this kind of logic where nothing quite makes sense. Pluma is born as a fully formed adolescent, objects descend from the ceiling and the people Pluma meet are increasingly bizarre. This feeling is exacerbated by the space of the play, as the action takes place all around and right next to the audience. People are seated even on the main stage, but because the focus is constantly shifting, no one is far away from the story for long. As I was watching, an actor handed me a prop and then fetched it from me when it became relevant again. The boundaries of the stage that would normally allow the audience to emotionally distance themselves from the action simply don’t exist.
Even though it was written over 20 years ago, “Pluma and the Tempest” deals with themes that are at the forefront of the American consciousness today. Police brutality, trauma, youth homelessness, unethical politicians, racism and homophobia all come to the forefront at different times. Very few changes were made to the lines, but the ones that were made are particularly effective, like a politician who says he wants to “make our country great again.”
The biggest change made to the play was interpreting the character of Pluma as nonbinary. The original version left Pluma as having ambiguous gender, and being able to be played by a man or a woman. Although it still dealt with themes of gender, Torres Narvaez made the conscious decision for Pluma to be non-gender-conforming or genderqueer. “Having Pluma be non-gender-conforming brings it to a whole other level,” Torres Narvaez said. “We have a lot of queer people thrown from their homes . . . and then having genderqueer actors brought a whole new understanding to the play.”
Danny Reinan, one of the actors for Pluma said, “It feels so amazing to be trailblazers, bringing this very special, but not very well known, show to the light. It’s been amazing getting to play the role of the nonbinary character whose experiences are very similar to mine when I am nonbinary myself . . . Being nonbinary comes with a lot of day-to-day struggles that are not often seen or depicted because our very existence goes against the societal order of things . . . it’s very difficult to find a place where your story is told, and that can be very demoralizing . . . It’s very rare to see a story like Pluma’s, which acknowledges the depths of nonbinary experience.”
Although “Pluma and the Tempest” is primarily a tragedy, it has a hopeful outlook. Kyle Huisman, who plays a mobster, said, “At first I thought Pluma, as a feather, was soft, but stripped of their softness in the end. I’m not sure if I feel that way now. The message now is more hopeful. Torres Narvaez agreed, saying, “[Pluma’s] wise. They’re not a blank slate . . . at the end, they’re angry, they’re cynical, but they say they’ll survive.”
“Pluma and the Tempest” will run Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon with tickets available online.
This article was originally published in the April 12, 2019 issue.
“Pluma and the Tempest” will run at Augsburg through April 14. Photo by Ashley Kronebusch.