One of the features of Los Angeles’ sprawling Fringe Festival is finding important plays tucked among the sea of one-person shows. Eduardo Vega’s Octopus in its Own Ink is such a find. To my mind, nothing is more important to discuss than the continued push-pull between oppressive and liberating forces seen in society throughout the hemisphere. And this large-cast play, performed in the lengthy Hudson Back Stage, brings this conflict into historical focus.
Based loosely on family stories, Vega recreates life under Rafael Trujillo (bombastically played by Carlos Campos) at a time of extreme upheaval when Fidel Castro had just seized power in Cuba. The Dominican Republic was still under the thumb of “El Jefe”, but populist forces, including sons of Ambassador Don Mario Velez (Gus Klein), were secretly plotting his overthrow.
The central event of the play revolves around the crisis that arises when El Jefe accepts a dinner invitation amid the political turmoil that has been unleashed.
Vega’s cinematic script follows Velez’ two sons, Carlos (Roberto Arrizon), and Tito (Eric Alcantara), through plotting, capture, and torture, while the youngest, Ernesto (Carlos Gomez), frets at home.
The family domestic, Pertita (Daniela Lugo), provides the emotional center. She has a lovely scene preparing the title dish, Octopus in it’s Own Ink (“Pulpo en su Tinta” in Spanish), where every element of the recipe is meticulously recreated. In fact, throughout the play, Vega provides intimate moments to savor. The rest of the large cast bring authenticity to the story, beginning with the wily Commandante (Marcello Padilla), onward to the last “soldado.” But the suspense, the arbitrariness of power, and the exposition of brutality never lets up.
Vega wrangles his cast in and through the long, expansive stage from scene to scene in a manner that still shows the seams of the work. And on the day I attended, the cast was still a bit rocky with lines. But to my mind, this is less a play and more of a movie scenario, and we are given a revealing first look in the process, aided by the hardworking staging and design team that Vega has assembled.
Octopus in its Own Ink continues at 8:30 pm through Saturday, June 17th at the Hudson Backstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038