Confusing work from Spain's inventive 'Joglars'
Usually after any theater production about fascism or totalitarian movements, the audience is supposed to be shocked, or at least allowed to laugh at the more farcical aspects. But the latest provocation of the Barcelona theater group Els Joglars leaves the audience confused and disturbed.
''Olympic Man Movement,'' which will be performing in New York at La Mama June 15-30, seems to be a disconcerting political propaganda meeting, a sweet and sour mixture of a negative utopia that is as appealing as it is disturbing. There is no message, no moral, no solution, and no alternative.
Els Joglars, a Catalonian theater group, is considered to be one of the most imaginative and original in Spain and among the leading experimental theater teams in Europe. Its director, Albert Boadella, founded the group 20 years ago as an experimental student pantomime theater which gradually added to corporal expression, voice, text, music, and staging.
The group gradually gained international recognition and then jumped into the news just before the first free elections in post-Franco Spain with the production of ''La Torna,'' in 1977.
Boadella was immediately prosecuted and arrested for ''serious insults and slander of the armed forces.'' The play represented a political execution scene based on an actual execution in Spain in 1975 under an ailing Francisco Franco. After Boadella was granted provisional freedom, he escaped to France and did not show up for the trial, returning to Spain only after general amnesties had been granted for political offenses. He still remains in provisional freedom, however, awaiting trial.
''Olympic Man Movement'' is a one-act play with only seven actors - four men and three women - in which electronics plays a dominant role. There is little dialogue, and what there is is tape-recorded. A huge video screen dominates the center of the stage.
''The play is an act of propaganda that has no moral,'' Boadella told me. ''The public is not shown what is good or bad and is forced to judge for themselves after seeing and hearing only the positive and convincing propaganda.''
Totalitarianism is presented with a sugary covering and has incorporated many of the elements of the traditional progressive left, as well as aspects of modern living, electronics, and advertising.
''The return of fascism will not be identical to that of the '30s, nor will totalitarianism necessarily come under a strictly communist guise,'' Boadella explained, although these elements can be found in the production indirectly. ''We can't expect to see the return of fascism with the face of Dracula or the Nazi cross that have a difficult past to overcome,'' he continued. He believes new totalitarianism will come ''magnificently filtered by advertising agencies and multinational companies that will permit a little ecology, a little legalization of homosexuality, a little revindication of the left . . . .'' In short, totalitarianism will be subtly attractive. ''Olympic Man Movement'' is meant to be a test for the spectator.
After the New York performance, Els Joglars will be on tour in France, West Germany, and Italy. It has already performed in Paris, as well as Madrid, Barcelona, and other Spanish cities. This will be the second time the group has performed in the United States. Previously it presented ''Laetius'' in the Baltimore Theater Festival.