In an extraordinary work of theater put together by Argentine director Lola Arias, six veterans who fought on opposite sides of the 1982 war between Argentina and Great Britain met and, under Arias’ guidance, pieced together a show. “Minefield,” which is running for just three days at the NYU Skirball Center as part of the Under the Radar Festival (the last performance is this afternoon), is ultimately a powerful and moving endeavor. It is also deeply odd.
“Our rehearsals lasted longer than the war,” one of them tells us.
Those rehearsals feel more important than the show itself.
The Falklands Island War (as the British call it; the Argentines call it Guerra de las Malvinas) lasted just 74 days, beginning in April when the Argentine military dictatorship of the time invaded the archipelago off its shore that had been a British colony since 1842. It ended in June after the British sent a naval armada to defeat the invaders.
To outsiders at the time, it might have seemed an old-fashioned, almost quaint war, the fight over an isolated, sparsely populated territory, where (as wags liked to point out) the sheep outnumbered the human population. Yet, more than 900 people died. It is a strength of “Minefield” that it drives home the carnage, through the stories the veterans tell of witnessing the deaths of their comrades, and by their candid description of the long-lasting devastating personal effect.
An emotional center of the show is a conversation between Marcelo Vallejo and David Jackson about what the war did to them. Vallejo, now a triathlon champion, tells Jackson that he was so angry and resentful that he would yell at his son for studying English. He became a drug abuser and more or less lost his mind, his family sending him to a mental hospital. Jackson, for his part, says that his experiences during the war led him to become a psychologist. The two joke about how much Vallejo owes Jackson for the session.
Vallejo speaks in Spanish with English surtitles; Jackson speaks in English with Spanish surtitles. None of the veterans speak the language of their erstwhile enemy. But, as they explain to us, they all understood one another from the get-go.
Their genuine-feeling interactions, which are occasionally confrontational, are heightened with the realization that this is no act, even though they are acting (or re-enacting.) We see photographs of them as youthful combatants in newspaper and television accounts at the time.
That authenticity more than compensates for the moments during the 100-minute show that feel like filler, and for the director’s heightened theatrical effects, many of which are at best unnecessary. When one of the veterans tells the story of witnessing his comrades being blown up by a minefield while carrying a boat to the river, it’s accompanied by a video of toy soldiers and a toy boat. Two of the performers don masks of Margaret Thatcher and Leopoldo Galtieri, while we hear recordings from the two nations’ respective heads of state of the era.
In a twist that would be ruled as too implausible were it not true, Ruben Otero, though he still refuses to learn English, now makes his living in a Beatles tribute band. I could have done without the veterans together taking up guitars and drums and offering a brief but very loud rock concert, but there’s no denying the symbolic heft of the British and Argentine survivors together making music, singing “Get back to where you once belonged.”
Under the Radar at NYU Skirball Center
Written and Directed by Lola Arias
Featuring: Lou Armour, David Jackson, Gabriel Sagastume, Ruben Otero, Sukrim Rai, Marcelo Vallejo
Research and Production: Sofia Medici, Luz Algranti
Set Designer: Mariana Tirantte
Composer: Ulises Conti
Lighting Designer/Technical Director: David Seldes
Video Designer: Martin Borini