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Ruins among the ruins in Tercer Cuerpo

In an unsettling play, Argentina's Timbre 4 looks at five messy lives.

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When I outlined the events of Tercer Cuerpo for my wife, she said it sounded like a soap opera. And, yeah, she had a point. Sofia loves her live-in boyfriend, Manuel, but he runs hot and sometimes exceedingly cold. Meanwhile, lonely, middle-aged desk jockey Hector goes looking for love after his mother's death frees him from tending to her. Hector's department supervisor, Sandra, desperately wants to get pregnant. And his busybody colleague Moni has a secret of her own that she's loath to share.

What makes all these melodramatic tidbits worth following—what kicks them intriguingly, amusingly, painfully off balance—is the context. In this hour-long play from Argentina's Timbre 4 theater, Sandra, Hector, and Moni spend their workdays in the recently decommissioned "third wing" of a corporate building, where the electricity is iffy, the equipment is falling apart, and their vague tasks have been rendered obsolete. The trio believe their jobs are protected by law—but, then again, maybe they've just been forgotten by everyone but the carryout place that takes their comically convoluted lunch orders.

The absurdity is compounded by the fact that each story unfolds on top of the others, on a single cramped set, creating the theatrical equivalent of a multiple-exposure photo. The action is often ridiculous, as when Sandra and Moni help Hector come up with a speech for his mother's memorial service by overruling all his suggestions. But the overall effect is unsettling: a portrait of five souls attempting to function under circumstances where pretty much everything is untenable. Tercer Cuerpo is performed in Spanish with English supertitles.

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