Last week The Yale Cabaret presented Manuela Infante’s Rey Planta, in English translation by YSD student Alexandra Ripp, directed by Cab Co-Artistic Director Michael Place, a North American debut. We watched Robert Grant as The King, paralyzed, sitting in a display case that was also a theatrical stage, in gaudy robes, wearing a tall paper crown, eyes darting wildly as his thoughts were voiced with expert rhythm by Monique Bernadette Barbee. And that, but for Sylvia (Carmen Zilles), the nurse who tended The King and mopped the floor in off-hours, and a Security Guard (Winston Duke) who strode about in a very officious way, and some ghostily effective use of projections, was all the action.
Infante’s play is ostensibly a monologue by Prince Dipendra of Kathmandu who, in 2001, killed nine members of the royal family, after a drunken argument about his choice of bride, and then attempted to kill himself. He botched the latter attempt and was in a coma for a three days, during which he was crowned king, then died. For the duration of the play he is “King Plant.” “The way I’m going, I’m going to have to learn photosynthesis,” he muses at one point.
And that gives you an idea of The King’s sense of humor. Witty, morbid, profound, absurdist, inquiring, self-pitying—the monologue isn’t so much a meditation on power, as it is on the limits of human understanding. Left with nothing but memory and whatever freedom of thought he can muster, The King is bounded in a nutshell with bad dreams. “Can my memory die? Can I commit suicide from it?”
There is no end to the hell of self so long as consciousness lasts, which should make the play heavy going, but it’s not. Rey Planta, which debuted in Chile in 2005, has the feel of absurdist Beckettian monologue, primarily because the crispness of The King’s consciousness keeps the play moving with the relentless feel of peeling an onion. Any person in a coma might be occasion enough for such a monologue, but Infanta knowingly sketches the implications of The King’s dramatic situation, as would-be suicide, as regicide, parricide, matricide. . . . An Orestes with all The Furies in his brain—and in the contortions of Grant’s incessantly active face—The King becomes a figure for human haplessness in the grip of grim contingency. He might say, with Lear’s Edmund, “the wheel has come full circle. I am here.”
The King toys a bit with his motives for the killings but his only remorse is for his own pitiable state. At one point he wonders “what am I a reflection of” and suggests that if everything he thinks were written down it could be a play: “A long monologue with pathetic attempts to be poetic, a little naïve, with a bit of black humor and a bit of existentialism. A horrible monologue.” That pretty much covers it, but then, trying to dismiss theater as merely the reflection of something that is already a reflection, The King jars us, sitting in our seats staring at his grimaces, listening to the bright inflections of “the voice” that seems to be from “another,” with a probing thought:
“Theater is what we do so we don’t forget that reality is a fiction. But—do we want not to forget?”
Rey Planta doesn’t let us forget that reality is an eternal present where thought, speech, action, being touched, being seen define the limits of our power.
Rey Planta by Manuela Infante, translated by Alexandra Ripp Directed by Michael Place
The Yale Cabaret Oct 13-15, 2011