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December 11, 2017
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A play acting as a map of immigrant history

A scene from Roxana Berco’s La boda de Fanny Fonaroff.
A scene from Roxana Berco’s La boda de Fanny Fonaroff.
A scene from Roxana Berco’s La boda de Fanny Fonaroff.
By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald

In Fanny Fonaroff, Roxana Berco offers a vivid glimpse into the meaning of Argentine identity

Léivele Fonaroff stands at the middle of the stage drawing on a piece of paper. He mutters the names of places he and his family had to go through to get to where they are, of rivers they had to cross to arrive at safer lands. When he’s done, he hands it over to one of the members of the audience. “Here,” he says. “Take this map, in case you get lost.”

Thus begins La boda de Fanny Fonaroff, a play by Roxana Berco which tells of the cultural clash between an Italian family and a Russian Jewish one. The play is set in 1921, during Hipólito Yrigoyen’s first presidency in Argentina and the pogroms in Russia. Both these things will define these characters’ lives. As the Jewish family, the Fonaroffs, speak of fleeing and of religious readings, the Rossis are stirred by the political context of their country, with one of the Rossis defending Yrigoyen and his friend wanting to join the worker’s strike that is shaking up Patagonia. As the Fonaroffs escape persecution in Russia, they arrive in Entre Ríos and become part of this loud and conflicted Italian household.

In making La boda de Fanny Fonaroff, Berco set out to tell the stories of 10 characters with different upbringings, ideologies and concerns. The teenage girls in the house, for instance, are far more concerned with kissing someone for Christmas than they are with the state of politics and current events. Léivele, true to his Jewish heritage, is constantly studying and very concerned about the metaphysical, for which he is by far the most poetic character of the bunch.

Berco does a good job of condensing 10 life stories in one hour and 20 minutes, because although the picture we get of them is certainly incomplete and has been simplified for our benefit, we still get a glimpse into each character’s essence, and are able to name at least one quality or ideological struggle that define them. In this sense, and despite it being a bit confusing at times, La boda de Fanny Fonaroff works.

But this is not where its biggest accomplishment lies. It is possible for the audience to forget the names of all the characters as the play ends, and even for them to mix them up somehow, and yet the historical scene it portrays is crystal clear. Without it feeling like a history lesson, Berco manages to put forward not so much every historical fact about that time, but rather the feel of it. While the Italians come to show us the anarchist movement causing turmoil in the country during the 1920s and the trouble arising from that even within a family, the Jewish family illustrates a global reality that goes beyond that time in history: the exile, and how close this concept is to Jewish identity right from biblical times when they were bound to wander through the desert for 40 years.

It is interesting to see how the Rossis are hotheaded and very ready to turn their ideas into action, how it takes them seconds to pick up their weapons and head to where the revolution is brewing. The Fonaroffs, on the other hand, are much more concerned with the intellectual and the bigger questions in life, with Léivele being the maximum expression of this very reality. What is even more interesting is to see the attractions and hatreds that will come from this encounter, to see them share songs of mass and Shabbat alike during Christmas time , and to witness where these cultures meet and where they differ.

La boda de Fanny Fonaroff tells an interesting story, with characters who are unique and likeable, each in their own way. The whole of the play is told somewhat poetically, with its tone being reminiscent to that of tales of magical realism. But the most interesting thing about it is how clearly it portrays the story of immigrants, which is so essential to Argentine identity, and how vividly it puts on stage their deepest struggles and their wildest dreams.

Maximiliano Frydman does an outstanding job as Léivele, and Julieta Raponi as Fanny also deserves a special mention for her wonderful portrayal of what it meant to be a teenage girl during that time. In any case, the most beautiful thing about La boda de Fanny Fonaroff is that Léivele was right: it does work as a map of a very particular time in history.

When and where

Thursdays at 8.30pm at Patio de Actores (Lerma 568). Tickets at 180 pesos. Discounts available.

@verostewart

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