Shaken at The Actors Centre
Written, directed and performed by Mexican artist Mariana Lafón as part of The Actors Centre’s Latin American Season, Shaken is an impassioned but all too brief recounting of the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
In its speedy 30-minute running time, Lafón allows an unfamiliar audience to become aware of the key context and despairing mood. Through a bricolage of music, dance and direct address (in a bilingual blend of Spanish and English), Lafón’s solo performance explores the earthquake’s fallout that shaped her earliest post-memory of the event. From a woman pulling herself from the tangled rubble to the political heights of a presidential press conference (where Lafón unflatteringly portrays then-President Miguel de la Madrid as a chortling, self-aggrandising showman) she scales most layers of the crisis. Lafón’s direction, Joe Ortega’s cinematography and Luis Fernando Zubieta’s editing impressively provides each vignette with a distinct atmosphere, all staged in a single, crumbling room. A POV hand-held sequence that has the camera gliding over family photos and crumpled fingers amid the dust and rubble, narrated with trepidation by Lafón, is both tense and mournful.
Sadly, Lafón’s exaggerated acting style can be off-putting. Her comedic president – who is at conflict with a sock-puppet critic telling unhelpful truths – might be satire, but its pantomimic delivery ends up jarring with the usually stonily serious depictions of the earthquake’s direct survivors. Even Lafón’s performance as a now-childless mother ends up being as cringingly overacted as the moustache-twirling political leader. More poignant is a sorrowful, musical elegy in which Lafón pays homage to those “miracle babies” who were found alive under the collapsed buildings. It is a quietly understated but piercing moment.
Unfortunately, Shaken ends all too hurriedly, with the artist giving an urgent cry for continued resistance against political corruption. Such a bold gesture should have resonance (both within and outside Mexico at the moment), but the play’s brevity and unevenness doesn’t quite allow this defiant punch to land. Despite the horrific reality of this appalling event and the clear personal commitment and creativity Lafón uses to tell the story, Shaken delivers only a few tremors.
Shaken at The Actors Centre is available to live stream from 13th November until 29th November 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.