Created and Performed by Amanda Monfrooe for REVEAL at The Citizen’s Theatre
The Great Disappointment of Santa Muerta is a one-woman show developed for REVEAL, a season of new work commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and performed at Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre. This deeply personal performance is a darkly humourous exploration of Amanda’s anxieties about our cultural ambivalence towards our own mortality. In the piece Amanda extends her interest in blending and juxtaposing unlikely theatrical vocabularies, including clowning, stand up comedy, and puppetry. This experiment contributes to Amanda’s desire to create a performance experience that constantly invites and even demands that the audience invests in the work intellectually and emotionally. Dramaturgically this amounts to disjoining the narrative, interrupting the aesthetic logic of the piece at unexpected moments, and weaving in and out of theatrical styles. Foremost, Amanda continues to ask questions that define her practice but that sit uneasily within our culture of infantilizing media formats and the consumerist agenda of commercial theatre.
Mostly she talks about death….
From the programme note:
“As in previous work I’ve used an unlikely combination of theatrical vocabularies. This time…to recount my experience as an actor hired to play Santa Muerta, the Saint of Death, on a live television broadcast celebrating the Mexican custom Dia De Los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. While researching and rehearsing the role, I came face to face with the kind of morbid questions that can send sensitive souls spiraling into despair and lunatics rampaging through the streets and managed to discover the meaning of life in the process of playing Death.”
Through a series of flashbacks the audience witnesses Amanda’s artistic process when she was preparing for “the role of a lifetime.” Between the flashbacks Amanda, now preparing for the live broadcast at a Mexico City studio, stands before her make-up mirror, slowly applying the morbid face of Santa Muerta. But as the performance draws closer by the minute Amanda confesses she still doesn’t know what she is going to say or do on Mexican TV. Only through the flashbacks is she able to piece together what she has come to understand about death, life and the reality of existence. And after Amanda has slowly applied the face of the Saint, does the real Santa Muerta finally emerge for one, brief, truthful encounter with mankind.
This understanding, born from her desire to “get Santa Muerta right,” saw Amanda search for the Saint in the world.
“I have been rehearsing Santa Muerta, out in the world. Walking on the city streets. Walking and looking. Looking on the city streets. Out in the world, looking for death.”
Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for Amanda to find death nor to realize the fragility of all organic life is too great a burden for her sensitive soul. Her morose reaction brings on a visit from The Black Dog, depression – her old friend/foe. After the dog tries to weezle his way back into her life Amanda says goodbye to him once and for all and commits herself to facing death.
BD: Well, you sounded sad. Before, what you were saying. I heard your every word.
Amanda: I’m just researching the role. I’m rehearsing. I need to dig deep. I have to-
BD: Whatever, I am just glad that I came when I did.
Amanda: I’m not sad. I’m overwhelmed by the inevitability of death.
BD: Oh no. Not that. Again. That old chestnut’ll do it every time. Okay, okay, yah, I guess I am back. It’s okay, little girl, I am here now. Okay, fishy friend, move over. Make room.
Amanda: What, just because I’m inquiring into the meaning of life I must be depressed.
BD: If you are just doing the asking, then no, it’s not depression. But if you try to answer, yah. Besides, you should not reduce me to a simple unbalanced emotional condition. I thought we were friends?
When she does she leaves behind her compassion and takes a hard look at the world, human beings, and her own mortality with the cold futility of Santa Muerta. This time she tests herself first with a fateful trip to the grocery store and then at her own nephew’s fifth birthday party. Here, continuing to use audience members as the imagined figures of her flashback, Amanda tells her nephew what she understands and what she feels he must know – everyone must die and that’s a good thing. After presenting him with Earth (“Pure Earth! Manna!”) as a gift she quietly and sweetly points out everyone who will die – which is everyone. And then she asks “will you die?” Amanda is struck off course. She is reminded of her mortality and unhappily retreats to fantasy in search of a way to live without denying death but without dying AND without the curse of being a human. Because looking at the world like Santa Muerta saw Amanda even more dismayed to discover she is not only repulsed by the species but would rather like to help bring about its extinction.
Here she meets Robert Pattinson, star of Twilight. Confusing the actor with his character, a human-loving vampire, she pleads with him to make her immortal. When he refuses he’s forced to explain he’s no vampire, nor is he immortal. Everyone is human, he instructs, and that’s wonderful. Whatsmore, Amanda knows it’s beautiful and if she wants to help humanity improve she need only remind them of the truth: they will die.
RP: I’m sorry there’s no solace for you in fantasy. But you’re not a killer. You’re up here for a reason. In your heart of heart you know life is beautiful because you know it’s a fragile temporary event. But what you fail to understand is that people are only dangerous when they forget this or when they pretend death isn’t real. If they knew what you know things might be different. Death is the great equalizer.
With the wisdom of the sweet R Patz in hand Amanda sets out to play Santa Muerta with vigor and honesty – telling humanity exactly what they need to hear to end their self-destructive ways and find peace:
“I am the only predator that has a natural right to exist. You need not live in fear or envy of any other living creature. For you are all my prey, my prey alone, and my prey forever. Your selfishness and stupidity is a plague, your perversions are a disease, and your blindness to life’s preciousness is a catastrophic mistake that only brings you closer to your extinction.”
:: Click the first image to start a slideshow of larger images.
Partial funding for REVEAL came from Bank of Scotland Artist Development Fund, which also supported Amanda through the Emerge programme, an ongoing platform of support for emerging artists. Find out more on the programme here.
“The Great Disappointment Of Santa Muerta” went on for further development at Oran Mor as part of their autumn 2012 A Play, Pie and a Pint season of lunchtime theatre. This development, supported by the National Theatre of Scotland was directed by Graham Eatough, formally of Suspect Culture. This run was praised by The Skinny’s Lorna Irvine as “One of the finest in PPP’s series so far.” Click here for Irvine’s full review.