Storytelling the beauty and brutality of South America

“Presentes!” by WA playwright Suzanne Ingelbrecht, and directed by Igor Sas, is a one-woman show presented by Fragmented Artists. The production had a brief showing at the Minnawarra Chapel in Armadale before it embarks on a regional tour to Moora, Narrogin and Harvey in January/February 2019.

I first saw “Presentes!” when it was a work-in-progress and it was evident at the time that the play had potential. The play is a personal story written and performed by Ingelbrecht (assisted by dramaturg Allan Girod) about her trip to South America in 2016. Being at a crossroads in her life, Ingelbrecht set off with a friend to explore this vast continent from Buenos Aires, across the Andes to Chile, back to Argentina and down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. It is not easy to tell such a story in an hour but the storytelling deftly moves from one incident to the next, capturing the sometime harsh then beautiful landscape, enhanced with physical movement and photographs projected onto the screen.

The most successful section of the story is when Ingelbrecht describes the brutal, political history of Argentina, in particular, when young people were systematically taken from their families and ‘disappeared’ by the Argentine police and military. The word ‘Presentes!’ in Spanish means ‘here’ or ‘present’ which is significant for family members who have been relentless in their search for the truth about what happened to their family members. Ingelbrecht and friend joined the weekly march through the streets in solidarity with the mothers of those ‘disappeared’. In fact, when Ingelbrecht mentions her own children, imagining if this had happened to one of them, her emotion is tangible and moving. The projection of the many faces of those ‘disappeared’ is a very powerful image and one that, I’m certain, will be forever seared into the memories of audiences.

“Presentes!” is also an opportunity for Ingelbrecht to unapologetically assert her own place in the world. She says that it 1“embraces my own refusal to go quietly into invisibility … or be disappeared [like] many middle aged and older women (and men)”. This opportunity is partly expressed when Ingelbrecht describes the demise of the friendship between travellers: the personalities of two very strong women begin to clash causing an irreparable fracture. The ‘picking apart’ of the incidents that led to the travellers going their separate ways I thought was unnecessary, and at times felt like an obstinate indulgence. Instead, this could have been an opportunity for a more philosophical approach and conclusion to what must have been a very difficult time. 

Having seen the work-in-progress and the current production, it is worth noting that Ingelbrecht’s level of performance has developed since starting this project as a non-performer. With the assistance of director Igor Sas, a well-known and respected actor in the Perth theatre industry, it is evident that Ingelbrecht’s skills as a performer have improved and I’m sure will continue to develop during the tour. 

Sas has created a beautifully modulated production that seamlessly interweaves dialogue with original music by composer/accordionist Cathie Travers and musician Manuel Munoz; and visual projections and footage created by emerging film-makers Belinda Thomas and Tina Aliedani. All is expertly synchronized by Chris Horgan of Organic Productions, and skilfully operated by production manager Ceri Kitely.

Before the regional tour in 2019, you can catch a one-time only performance of “Presentes!” outside the Artists’ Retail Collective (ARC) building in Jull Street Mall, Armadale on Thursday 13 December at 8.00pm.