I was hoping to get a good chuckle from the Argentinean production Un Poyo Rojo, but while I found the show in terms of humour to be only mildly amusing, I did get a positive take-away. Un Poyo Rojo is physical theatre of tremendous skill, and therefore, eminently watchable.
The title, according to my Google search, literally means The Red Hen, but in slang terms, refers to the male appendage, the latter being in absolute keeping with the show’s zeitgeist. Performers Luciano Rosso and Nicolas Poggi, two of the creators, take the audience through a parade of male activity, some obvious (chest bumps, wrestling), some more obscure (recreating ballerina Anna Pavlova’s dying swan). Homoerotic overtones hover over the entire performance, making one wonder just where the relationship between the two men is headed.
The part that fascinated me the most about Un Poyo Rojo is the segues, how one sequence seamlessly morphs into something else, always keeping to the rhythm and flow. The show is performed without words, and for the most part, without sound, so the impact of the physicality is paramount. Both men are trained dancers and that is very obvious in their fluid, supple movement. Rosso, in particular, has a body as malleable as rubber. They are both engaging performers with lots of personality, who also happen to move beautifully.
The set, such as it is, contains a bank of lockers, with a bench in front. We are in the private world of men. Rosso and Poggi begin wearing singlets, track pants and bare feet, then along the line strip down to their briefs, ending up in tops, shorts, running shoes, and elbow and knee pads. The different costumes seem to dictate the range of activity. The casual wear includes friendly interchanges while the sport outfits introduce more combative and competitive sequences.
A key vignette in Un Poyo Rojo involves a boom box radio, which happens in real time, and which clearly makes the show different with each performance. (The radio gets its own bow at the end.) As Poggi keeps switching stations, Rosso, who is sitting on the bench, reacts with his body, particularly his face. He seems to be able to find a matching movement, even for talk radio. In a genuinely funny episode, Rosso puts practically a whole package of cigarettes in his mouth, nose and ears, and moves them independently in quite an astonishing display of muscle isolation. Ross is apparently a known lip-sync master, and the more difficult the song, i.e. patter lyrics, the funnier he is. In a bonus encore, he lip-syncs to a song, which I think is called “If You Want To Be My Lover”, causing him to move his face and lips in a multitude of hilarious directions.
Un Poyo Rojo is densely packed with loads of physical images that relate to men. As well as the manly stuff, we also get more fey material like male models on the runway or a couples dance. Poggi spends an inordinately long time at his locker just looking at himself in the mirror while moving his body gently to a Latin rhythm. In truth, as the kaleidoscope of physical images unfurl before us, there is a sense of just how wide a sweep of male activities – kinetic, emotional, psychological, philosophical, sexual, spiritual – that the men have attempted to embrace, with an important emphasis on the homoerotic. There is depth here if one looks at both the advantages and pitfalls inherent in male bonding.
Director Hermes Gaido, also one of the creators, has ensured a performance that never lets up in energy. Un Poyo Rojo is a physical endurance test for the two performers that is certainly as cheeky as it is subversive.
Canadian Stage, Un Poyo Rojo, created and performed by Lucian Rosso and Nicolas Poggi, directed by Hermes Gaido, Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre (aka Berkeley), Oct. 3 to 11, 2019.