The difference between a theater critic and the general public who attend a show is that a critic gets paid to pose as an expert while the public pays to become an expert. There are some who base their decisions to see a show on the opinion of critics who trust that the brain impaired will actually give more than a pitiful look at da kritic’s pathetic self importance.Every artist likes to see their performance linked to the words “critically acclaimed,” and we all tend to play the game of discounting the importance of uninformed paid reviewers while at the same time biting our nails waiting for the overnight reviews.
This is about a new show that opened in San Francisco on November 17 and goes by the unassuming name of TANGO. This is about the foresight of a visionary who made a choice, fifteen years after Tango Argentino swept the world off its feet and introduced the “sausage making machine” that every single tango show after that has used to make the same sausages with a variety of tastes and flavors. Creator and Director Rafael Nicolau’s choice was a “parrillada al uso nuestro.” TANGO is modern traditionalism and traditional modernism. It is as genuine and tasteful as the juicy “bife argentino,” the Argentine top sirloin, the only contemporaneous import from Argentina that would seem palatable to the cliché ridden, exoticism infatuated mentality of Allan Ulrich, theatre critic for the San Francisco Examiner.
Heading off with TANGO hasn’t got much tang, Ulrich discovers right away that the latest Argentine import can’t match its predecessor, and he decides that the tango being the new opiate of the elite it would be easier than ever to quit cold turkey. Then, matter of factly he announces that in an era when tango records have replaced Gregorian chants anthologies as the crossover musical diversion of choice for the intelligentsia, every tango producer wants to find a tango show. The model for all them remains Tango Argentino. Of course, we were waiting for a no brainer punchline. That spectacle boasted a stage band that featured the master of tango nuevo, Astor Piazzolla and the haunting wheeze of his bandoneon, Ulrich finally obliges. All right, correct me if I am wrong but Piazzolla NEVER set foot on the stage of Tango Argentino, so that goes to show you that any bum can become a critic if he can manage to flash the “facts” on a handwritten cardboard waved at the windshields of unsuspecting theater going motorists.
The essence of tango occasionally comes through, continues Allan Ulrich, giving a thumbs up to a rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and Malambo, a sizzling percussive folklore solo, which is to the essence of tango as a Sammy Davis Jr. tap dancing number would be to the The Lawrence Welk show.
Would it be too harsh to suggest that Allan Ulrich read the latest news from Argentina in a plastic sealed copy of Bordello Today? Fortunately, the elite intelligentsia, as Ulrich puts it, has made a lot of inroads into Buenos Aires and the channels of communication are linked by fiber optics, satellites and the Internet.
Ulrich never suspects that an older gentleman, played by Mariano Monzon, in a mime episode is supposed to be Piazzolla himself, and he never gets the point of a pair of senior dancers (Mariano Monzon and show choreographer Ofelia Caviello) creakily attempting a routine on one side of the stage, while, opposite, a young couple ( Nelson and Yanina) go through similar motions to the masterful Cholo Montironi’s rendition of Recuerdo. Comprende, che Ulrich? A critic is not required to know about Osvaldo Pugliese’s masterpiece nor is he expected to do his homework about the cultural and artistic evolution of a foreign country. As long as there are brain impaired theater goers who heed the advice of uninformed and lazy critics, their job is safe. The men and women who put on an original, provocative, daring, unconventional, genuine and honest piece of Argentine art on stage, called TANGO, can’t say the same.