“Better to not look at me so you don’t stop loving me,” says the King.
Yale Cabaret’s performance of “Rey Planta” is full of lines like that—lines that are chilling, playful and tragic all at once. Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Ripp DRA ’13, Manuela Infante’s “Rey Planta” presents the thoughts of a paralyzed king sitting inside a museum display case. The story is based on true events that took place in 2000, when the Nepalese crown prince shot and murdered nine members of the royal family before attempting suicide. He fails to kill himself and is instead paralyzed in all areas of his body but his eyes. Subsequently, he ascends to the throne, the newly crowned king. For three days, the king remains in an agonizing state of paralysis, drowned in thoughts of love and regret and power.
Located in the basement of the Cabaret, the play’s set consists of a platform on which the king (Robert Grant DRA ‘13) sits and is lined by two walls of paintings on either side that depict somber looking children wearing headscarves. The incongruity of their blank-faced wistfulness and the king’s deep expressions of pain is just one of the intriguing ironies featured in “Rey Planta.” At several points in the play, a projector transposes the king’s face onto the paintings so that the images of the children are blurred and distorted by the king’s trembling head. At other times, joyful classical music plays and contrasts harshly with his dark lamentations, emphasizing further the tragedy of his paralysis. Every feature of the set—from the mountain collage behind the king to the cleaning lady who sweeps the museum floor—accentuates the king’s desperate sense of static helplessness, of imprisonment.
Because there is so little movement, each physical action is riveting. You are captivated by the king’s struggles to move his limbs and to escape the wooden stool to which he has been condemned, because to him, those movements mean so much. When Silvia (Carmen Zilles (DRA ’13), the cleaning woman, cleans and arranges him like she would a mannequin inside a store, you share in his pain of being reduced to an object, a “planta”. While your ears listen to the steady lull of the king’s internal philosophizing, as voiced by Monique Bernadette DRA ’13, your eyes are plastered onto the king and tuned into his every feeble twitch.
Credit must be given to Grant and Bernadette for making the king pensive and vulnerable enough for audience members to temporarily disregard his villainy. He has, after all, murdered his entire family. But when the king grapples at the reasons behind his act, you are made to forgive this, even sympathize with his ironic twist of fate. He speaks of love for a cook’s daughter, of the burden of royal birth, and finally, of not really knowing “why I did what I did.” He killed his family because he wanted to die a complete death and killing everyone he loved seemed to him “the only way to die.” It would have been blissful to die, he says, but instead he is “a plant due to calculation error.” As you listen to him bemoan the curse of royal power, you find yourself drawn into his born-to-be-king dilemma, and you begin to understand, maybe just a little, the motivations behind his horrific act.
The great irony outlined by “Rey Planta” is that a king who killed to evade power is now desperately seeking it. Because of his paralysis, he must submit to everyone he encounters—from the mysterious tall man in a suit to children who visit his display to a cleaning woman who force-feeds him juice. For two hours, audience members are drawn into the king’s twisted thoughts concerning his crime, his crippled state and his solitude. There is seldom any “action”, save the king’s sporadic spasms and the changing of the lights. With a skilled mix of sounds, lights and monologue, however, director Michael Place DRA ’12 makes an otherwise static play come to life.
At one point, the king remarks, “Theatre is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” Fortunately, the most intriguing element of “Rey Planta” is its contradictions.