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Fear and Loathing Play Out in 'Timboctou' at REDCAT Theater

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Photo of Michael Aurelio (left) Jeremy Kinser (right) courtesy of REDCAT/Steven Gunther
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In introducing the play "Timboctou," director Martín Acosta writes that the title references “the farthest imaginable place on earth…a mythological place that, in principle, no one could or should get to.” As the play unfolds, though, it becomes clear that playwright Alejandro Ricaño's original piece is as much about where our imagination can take us as about where we, capable of perhaps more than we thought, can in reality wind up.

"Timboctou" opens with the story of twins Chucho (Axel Garcia) and Dany (Mario Montaño Mora), who are tasked with depositing four dead bodies in a McDonald’s parking lot. As Ricaño's tale surges forward, the lives of a lovelorn Spaniard (Juan Parada), a bewildered head of state (Sofia Olmos Vazquez), and two young American men on vacation (Michael Aurelio, Jeremy Kinser ) are woven into Chucho and Dany’s story, for better or for worse. Each character's decisions leads them to do or experience horrific things, and each in turn tries to escape the fallout through denial, drugs, alcohol or vengeance, as if to make the point that no matter how far we run - even to the unimaginable ends of the earth - there’s no getting away from the choices we make.

Ricaño’s play would be stunning enough in its tale of extreme human fallibility - from murder to betrayal to criminal complicity - but the story is also infused with sleek, dark humor. Chucho, for instance, waxes poetic about the injustice being done to polar bears in the North Pole due to global warming as he casually rides shotgun in a Cadillac transporting his boss’ dismembered victims.

The play also incorporates choreography, and characters tell their stories not just through words but through precise movement which sometimes - as in the case of the two American men confronted with their own capacity for evil - describes their pain, fear and anguish in ways that words cannot.

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And speaking of words, "Timboctou" is primarily in Spanish, with English subtitles flashed onto the far wall. To see this performance in a language that is hugely underrepresented in the major concert halls and theaters in the city despite being spoken by over half of Angelenos is incredibly refreshing, but at the same time it begs the uncomfortable question of why, exactly, it seems so unusual.