A man in a suit, soaking wet, drags himself onto the shores of El Salvador, returning to a place he swore he’d never return to. A small coastal town where he was born and, later, reborn after nearly drowning as a child.
As he stumbles to his feet, he is both living now and reliving the moment he nearly died. Turned over and over in the tumbling waves, not struggling against the rip but going with it. Men, he says, nearly always drown because they fight the waves. They want to try to master the ocean.
Rodrigo Calderón’s play, HE, is an elegiac monodrama – a reflection on childhood, difficult relationships with parents and a childhood overwhelmed by sadness and homophobia.
The man we are watching reminisces about a teenage crush named Jesús, while also comparing himself to the Biblical character, because of his own resurrection in the sea. The religious conflict underlies everything in the play but isn’t the dominant force in his young life, which is his very abusive father, who doesn’t like Communists or faggots.
Rodrigo’s physicality on stage matches his poetic words, the character struggling to even stand up at the beginning and finding it impossible to stand still once the story starts pouring out of him.
The character’s life in El Salvador is post-civil war but that decade-long conflict creates the monster that is his father and his advice to his son when he first sees a dead body – “Don’t concern yourself with the dead, it’s the living you must worry about.” You can see where his father might have reached that conclusion, but the man at the centre of HE is reckoning with the dead as best he can.
HE is a beautifully written and wonderfully performed. The intimacy of the space, Red Velvet Underground in Brunswick, works hand-in-hand with the intimacy of the play. For a small room and a tiny audience, Rodrigo Calderón weaves a lovingly crafted piece of theatre magic.
HE closed last night but hopefully, like the haunted character we meet, it will be resurrected again soon.
- Keith Gow, Theatre First