Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Campo Maldito, A Review

The play Campo Maldito by Bennett Fisher, directed by Jesca Prudencio is an original take on gentrification. Heard the saying, if the walls could speak? Well in Campo Maldito, the walls not only speak, they breathe, demand retribution and scare the daylights out of Ken Ingersoll (actor Walker Hare), a young upstart white boy who has nothing but disdain for the former inhabitants of the flat he occupies. Unable to sleep unless inebriated, he hears voices and senses a living presence in the room with him in his sober moments. Close to losing it completely, his friend recommends a Santero or priest in African Diaspora traditional religion to help him resolve the matter or at least investigate it.

Hieronymo Acosta (actor Luis Vega), the priest, confirms his client’s suspicions $1000.00 is exchanged, cementing the deal. The priest sets up his altar and says a prayer in the West African language, Yoruba—the language of ceremony, before starting.  The authenticity worried me. I didn’t want any aroused spirits to walk from the room with us. The Exit Theatre is right in the mix, that is, in the center of the locale in dispute on stage--The San Francisco Tenderloin District which is being invaded by high tech CEOs like Ken Ingersoll.

As the two men, wrestled with the ghost, (Emilia) former girlfriend of Acosta (the priest), I thought about the notion of displacement and where spirit goes when separated from its body; it has nothing left except the memory of displacement. I could see how such a legacy could make one mad, and angry she is.

Abandoned by the man she cared about, who happens to be the priest, Acosta, we are not certain if Acosta will live through the ceremony, let alone his yuppie client who wants to retire at 40.

Acosta talks about the last day he and his lover saw each other. He fills in the space –the abyss she and so many others occupy not long after his departure. He says he went to a store for more alcohol and never returned. It was what he saw there on the street that helped him regain his sobriety and realize that he was no good to himself or his community drunk.

The encounter in the apartment between the two, Egun or ancestor (girlfriend)– and former boyfriend, now priest, share is closure for Acosta as well.

When a community is emptied of its tenants, where does the energy go? Does it paint the walls and line the stairs? Stain ceilings like spit balls? As the two men wrestle, Acosta and Ingersoll, one scared yet embarrassed that it has come to this. . . his life in the hands of a person he once would have stepped over on the street like debris we see how literally close the two men are to the antithesis of their personal sagas.

Despite his livelihood and eventually his life held in a balance, Ingersoll cannot control the bigoted remarks raining from his mouth . . . so apologies lace linguistic contents.  It would be pitiable if the stakes were not so high. Ken Ingersoll does not believe in what he cannot see and so he makes Acosta’s job harder. The priest or Santero doesn’t wear robes and African attire. He wears a jersey, around his waist a fanny pack that is full of special ingredients for the spiritual cleansing.  

The exorcism is a jaunt that had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The story doesn’t really end, it just flips to the next page . . . with the commodification of property and people and the value inherent in the hands or those who hold the deck, what lies ahead for those who have money to displace entire peoples with a handshake and a paper document.

The evening I attended Campo Maldito, the streets were full of homeless people in and about Eddy Street, Taylor and Ellis and Stockton. The show started at 9 and when I walked out at 10 p.m. there were people barely holding onto their sanity walking along the same sidewalks as modern voyeurs – or theatre patrons.

Spirit is real even unseen, even when ignored or dismissed.
 There is a physicality to the work in the actors and director Prudencio's hands which lend itself to the embodiment of the themes of possession and release . . . forgiveness and reparations. Campo Maldito points to an open wound which needs immediate attention—The Tenderloin looks like a hospital ward. Who are its patients and what is the remedy?

Depending on whose perspective Acosta or Ingersoll's, there is a lot of beauty here, yet the contagion is spreading, consuming any and everything in its path.  In the play its direction is vengeance in the person of egun or ancestor Emilia, who furiously flings her wings at all who’d dare attempt to tame her except the one man who brings love . . . peace.

Campo Maldito has three more performances at
San Francisco Fringe Festival. There are three more performances at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy Street in San Francisco: Sept. 12 @10:30 p.m.; Sept. 16 @7 p.m.; Sept. 20 @2:30 p.m. See (trailer) &

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