Aguijón's Brutality reveals the banality of violence in contemporary America | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Aguijón's Brutality reveals the banality of violence in contemporary America

And, in the process, examines how people cope with trauma—or don't.

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Set in contemporary America and based in part on real-life events, Gustavo Ott's play, the winner of the 2016 Hispanic Playwriting Competition of Chicago, doesn't have a single protagonist. Instead, Ott has crafted a one-act, performed in Spanish with English overtitles, with an ensemble of more or less equally important characters—a cop, a lawyer, a school-bus driver, an immigrant from Lebanon, another from Mexico, a pair of rebellious teens—who are all survivors of violence. One couple was at a gay nightclub the night of a hate-inspired mass shooting, another was at a heavy-metal concert disrupted by a terrorist gunman, a third survived the bombing of a federal building.

What makes these characters and their stories remarkable, though, is how unremarkable they are: in scene after scene we see them acting out the mundane rituals of everyday life: waking up, having breakfast, sitting in a coffee shop killing time before a meeting. It's only in the course of small talk that we learn of the horrors they have seen and lived through. These scenes intrigue and tease the audience, but it's ultimately frustrating that they never come together into a compelling, unified narrative.

Director Rosario Vargas has packed this Aguijón Theater production with subtle, strong actors capable of revealing Ott's insights into the ways people do—and don't—cope with trauma. Erica Cruz Hernandez and Ana Santo-Sanchez are particularly compelling as a pair of lovers, both recovering from past brutalities, who find a modicum of solace dancing the night away at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.   v

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