The Man With the Bomb:
Washington Ensemble Theatre’s B
What does your ideal revolution look like? Smell like? Feel like? Will it be violent? Washington Ensemble Theatre’s show B unwraps (literally) these questions.
B, written by Guillermo Calderón, follows the story of three anarchists’ relationship with agitation and propaganda in Chilé.
Guillermo Calderón grew up during the fascist regime of Augusto Pinochet in Santiago, Chilé. Calderón was born in Chilé in 1971. At the time of his birth, socialist president Salvador Allende led the country. When Calderón was 2, Pinochet violently overthrew Allende in a CIA sponsored coup. Pinochet’s 17 year reign was violent, to say the least. Close to thirty-thousand people were tortured. Calderón’s uncle was murdered by the dictatorship when he was four.
B is informed by the history of Pinochet as well as the widespread bombing campaign in Chilé that began in 2005. In other words, the play was born from conflict that Calderón witnessed and experienced. The 2005 bombings were instigated by young militants protesting the oppressive state system at large. Most of the bombs were directed towards banks and police stations, targeting symbols of the state. The several hundred bombs were almost entirely non-lethal, and acted to shatter windows and disrupt life as usual.
This political contextualization is important because the play is meant to dramatise the ideological and tactical conflict between activists from a Pinochet generation (in the 1970’s) and the later generation protesting the state (2005).
In B, José Miguel (Craig Peterson) represents the older anarchist generation. A generation dedicated to resolving conflict through any means necessary, including violence. Alejandra (Sophie Franco) and Marcela (Klarissa Marie Robles), the other activists of the play, are instead driven by the symbolic (and digital) value of bombing, and less into direct physical violence as a means to achieve social transformation. When José arrives with the bomb the two women have ordered, conflict arises. The young anarchists are surprised to find that the non-violent noise bomb they ordered to detonate near a bank contains nails and shit. So, if anyone is near the space where the bomb detonates they will get hurt by the nails, and infected with the shit. Pretty gnarly.
The casting of Craig Peterson as José is confusing, on multiple fronts. First, he is not seemingly significantly older than the two women, so the political context of generational differences seemingly falls short. Additionally, Craig is white. As a team, we were not sure if casting a non-Latinx actor was specified in the script, particularly since the Royal Court production in 2017 followed the same racial casting, yet we were skeptical.
The scenic design contains some seriously badass spectacle, yet seems to lack an organic relationship to the script. It is an indulgent white cube/box modern apartment. It is truly amazing work from Lex Marcos, but was it intentional for these anarchists to be placed in such a non-typical space? As someone who has spent quality time in squats across Europe, I was expected to walk into a poster-clad, communal living, anarcho-punk scene. Is the extravagance of Marcos’s set meant to imply something about wealthy anarchists who are privileged enough to be discontent with the state?
Shermona Mitchell’s character Carmen steals the show. From costume (“Rosé All Day” shirt and pink slippers) to props (walking in carrying a tray full of cupcakes) her character was a comedic break from the academic arguments between the three anarchists. Actor Klarissa Marie Robles commanded the room in a slightly different, yet equally strong, way. In one particularly intense moment, Marcela (Robles) describes how a close friend, Martín, was killed by a bomb he meant to detonate in a shopping center. Calderón’s strong writing paired with the piercing sadness that Robles’ emanates produces a heart-wrenching, and powerful, monologue. It pulled me as an audience member towards pondering whether “non-violence is a colonial lie,” as artist Vienna Rye writes.
The discussion around whether bombs are good, or bad, seem to be the meat of the production. For those of us who agree that the system is flawed, and needs to be destroyed, this is where the critical discourse of the production lives. B asks, how can we move away from self-serving anarchism and towards a more collectively-oriented strategy? In one moment, one of the women-anarchists shares the need to feel useful, important, and happy. Revealing that one of the desires to detonate the bomb was to feel a both sense of belonging and solidarity with her anarchist friends incarcerated for rebelling against the state. Revealing that, as an activist, what she truly needs is a sense of belonging and well being. José critiques the women, saying “you just want to live fascinating lives,” but, in my own experience, the struggle for freedom is much more than fascination, it is a dedication to the ownership of one’s own future.