Las Ramponi. (Photo via La Vaca/Lina Etchesuri).

Summer may be drawing to a close, but comedy season is in full swing at the Teatro Mandril. As the nights draw in, Thursday evenings are brightened up by a weekly ciclo of female comedians and humorists. With no tickets – you simply pay a la gorra – all are welcome to join the riotous bacchanal taking place.

(Photo via Familiar mata Fantasía).
(Photo via Familiar mata Fantasía).

 

The idea for Nosotras que nos reímos tanto was born when Familiar mata Fantasía were asked to play at the Mandril. Malena Medici, one half of the theatrical duo, decided to extend the invite to other groups of female comedians and performers. Every week is different: first came Ciertas Petunias, then Adultas, followed by Las Ramponi and Familiar mata fantasia, then finally a variety night before the cycle repeats. For Medici, now is an important moment of union for women; it is a joy to join together both in laughter and in protest. The actor Peter Ustinov once said that “comedy is simply a funny way of being serious,” and this saying could not ring more true for the performers.  Andrea Nussembaum, Medici’s comedy partner, explains, “for us, humor is not just to pass the time but is also our way of talking about the things that matter to us.” “Through the mirror that is humor,” adds Medici.

Each performance is so different that it is worth going each week and discovering these up-and-coming stars of alternative theater. Ciertas Petunias, who unfortunately won’t be performing again, produced a piece about five women who participate in the talent contest that takes place in a town’s traditional kermesse. This contest requires them to compete in various categories, and so the group perform a range of musical styles and choreographies, all while juggling this with the quintet’s own internal conflicts.

Meanwhile, Ana Clara Barboza and Natalia Tamara Rosa from Adultas open their performance by describing themselves as a performance of “Humor, Music and Poetry” and what follows is a delightfully surreal mix of music, dancing, spoken word, Esther Williams-style costume changes and banter with each other and the audience. Now, I’m a Brit, so when the duo started interacting with the crowd during a hilarious horoscope reading, my heart did stop a little, but luckily I looked far too confused and awkward to be picked on. From a sketch about Argentine bureaucracy that will ring only far too true for anyone who has tried to do ANYTHING here, to even the closing song imploring people to put money in the gorra, Adultas had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands.

(Photo via Adultas).
(Photo via Adultas).

A joyous atmosphere prevails, and when I ask Las Ramponi to describe their work in a word, they laugh and say, “una fiesta! It’s more an experience than a ‘work.’”  They are the next group to perform, and their piece centers around an egocentric folklore singer, Myrian Cardozo, who has come to the capital to present her first album, Grandes Éxitos. Accompanied by her assistant and two instrumentalists, “Las Golondrinas del Monte,” the show includes folk dances, such as zamba and chacarera, as well as elements of rap, flamenco, and hip hop.

Finally, in Familiar mata Fantasía, Malena Medici and Andrea Nussembaum play two estranged sisters who meet at Ezeiza airport in order to fulfill the last wish of their father, which was to scatter his ashes on the beach in Chapadmalal where they spent their childhood summers.

The duo work a lot on the idea of oppositions, the contrariety between the sisters both physically and in their lives. Although they come from the same place, every decision that they could have made since then have been opposites. The piece is also employs the great comedy staple of the loser, as despite their different paths, neither of the sisters are happy. For Nussembaum, “what comes out most from our humor is the pathetic. People emphasize much more with a loser than a winner.” The work also explores the ambiguity of the decisions we take in life. “In real life nothing is black and white. Things can be going well and badly at the same time,” says Medici. Now ain’t that the truth.

Last Thursday I went down to see Adultas play their first show. Upon finally venturing out of my comfort zone of Palermo, I was worried that I would not be able to find the Teatro Mandril. I needn’t have worried: with its brightly-colored façade, music blaring and crowds of effortlessly cool young Argentines puffing away outside, the Mandril is like a shining beacon that lights up an otherwise deserted, dark street in Monserrat.

What is particularly pleasing to see is the diversity of the crowd assembled. While I had somewhat naïvely expected a largely female crowd, the gender divide was fairly equal. While some incorporate feminist elements, or, like Familiar mata Fantasia, express the various sides of the female experience, the works are not necessarily set out to be feminist pieces; the emphasis is on this being female humor. For Julieta Filipini, from Las Ramponi, participating in this ciclo leaves behind the idea that the humor made by women is only for women. “Comedy written by women is for everyone, the only difference is that it’s made by a woman.”

What really prevails is this sense of inclusion. What we can see from all of the comedy groups who are participating in Nosotras que nos reímos tanto is a democratization of theater and comedy and it provides an accessibility so often lacking in the artistic mainstream. For Medici, operating a la gorra is a political decision which allows anyone to access art at a moment in the country in which rampant inflation and economic stagnation means that “art is more often relegated to last place” behind more urgent necessities of food, gas, and electricity. That’s not to say that the show is free, but it recognizes these economic pressures and so asks people to pay what they can.

Las Ramponi are also working to make theater more accessible. After the ciclo at the Mandril has finished, they are going to festivals in Bolivia and Chile and are hoping to travel to other provinces of Argentina. As their piece explores and is inspired by the periphery and non-urban Argentine culture, they are embracing the inclusion of these areas by traveling to places where people don’t usually go to the theater: instead of waiting for people to come to them, Las Ramponi are going to their audience.

 

 

Just as Las Ramponi draw on personal experience (two of the group come from the interior of Argentina and one member is from the suburbs of Santiago), for Familiar mata Fantasía, inspiration comes from the women’s personal and professional backgrounds, with many elements of the piece actually taking place in real life.  Medici and Nussembaum are both of Jewish origin, and while neither of them are practicing, there is a cultural humor and attitude that remains idiosyncratic. The work of Woody Allen is influential, but the duo are keen to point out the differences, as both women and Argentines. Medici emphasizes that they are porteñas first: “In Woody Allen’s films, we see a Jew who is very much from New York, but we have this third-world side as well.” Furthermore, while there are cinematic references in their piece, for Nussembaum, theater has always been a much more expressive medium as “it allows you to go the extremes of language and expressiveness which would be far too much in cinema.”

So is the future looking bright for female-led comedy? Traditional theater is a space where women have historically been excluded, but Alternative Theater has provided a space where women and men who do not fit macho ideals can work and express a different sensibility than that expressed by the mainstream. Inequality persists, “as it does in every part of our lives,” says Medici, but the cultural shift that has accompanied the birth of #NiUnaMenos and the women’s movement has brought with it a stronger awareness of female comedians and less preconceptions about the work that they do. Both groups that I spoke to emphasized that there is a growing sense, even among male comedians, of what you can and cannot say, and jokes that people could get away with even five years ago seem horribly outdated today.

This has been accompanied by the reorientation of gender roles in comedy and theater groups. According to Clara Maydana from Las Ramponi, instead of the traditional capocómico (the leader of a theater company), there are increasing numbers of capacómicas, with more women running their own companies and occupying roles of responsibility. More than anything though, says Nussembaum, “is that today you feel much more accompanied in your work. We know there are a lot of us and this gives a sense of hope. We are many and every day we are capable of more.”

Now if that’s not a reason to be cheerful, I don’t know what is.

(Photo via Revista Peutea).
(Photo via Revista Peutea).

Nosotros que nos reímos tanto will be running every Thursday until April 26 at the Teatro Mandril, Humberto 1º 2758. Entry is a la gorra but ARS $150 is suggested if you are able.

March 22 and April 19: Las Ramponi

March 29 and April 26: Familiar mata Fantasía

April 5: Variety night

April 12: Adultas

See you there!