Reus is a surprising Spanish town. Though partly overshadowed by booming Barcelona, a mere 70 miles to the north, the hometown of architect Antoni Gaudi is no sleepy Mediterranean village. I arrived there in late October for Cos, the Eighth Annual International Theater Festival of Mime and Gesture (or however that best translates from Catalan). Artistic director Lluis Graells assembled 20 companies and performers from various regions in Spain as well as France, Israel, Belgium, Peru, Poland, Cameroon, England and Italy.

For a city of only 100,000, Reus boasts glorious venues. Theatre Bartrina was built in 1905 and seats an intimate 550. The larger, grander Theatre Fortuny is named in honor of the Reus-born painter, Mariano Jose Maria Bernardo Fortuny y Carbo. Smaller spaces are plentiful in the cozy Catalonian town.

The proud and unique city of Reus awakened with a lively festival attitude for the week. In addition to the performances, courses were offered in puppetry and improvisation, restaurants were abuzz with late-night theatergoers, and the various plazas glowed with excitement as people dashed from venue to venue.

I was able to see 11 productions in my five brief days in Reus. They ran the gamut from amateurish fare best suited to children (or frat boys) to visually-arresting works for the most sophisticated theatergoer.
The piece that still shines in my mind weeks after my return to New York is Duel by the Clipa Theater of Israel. A melancholy clash between a pair of ill-fated lovers is underscored by the "Peer Gynt Suite" by Greig and "The Swan" by Saint-Saens. Idit Herman and Dmitry Tyulpanov appear on the ostentatious Fortuny stage like porcelain dolls. That short piece is performed before "Rite of Spring," the main choreographic event. In that, Herman and Tyulpanov are joined by six other dancer-actors to enact a large-scale frenzy in beige. In primal, brutal tones, the company dance to Stravinsky's infamous piece as if they were in the opening scene of the film, "Planet of the Apes."

Over at the Teatre de l'Orfeo Reusenc was the delightful work of Peruvian mime Hugo Suarez in the piece, Hugo and Ines (named after his Bosnian partner Ines Pasic). He amazed a full house of children and adults by using his body parts-hands, fingers, knees, navel-to create figures and faces. Suarez brings vignettes of sadness, joy and frivolity to life in the most simple manner. Fingers become angry teeth; knees transform into bald heads. The poignancy of a love lost is as present in the work as the silliness of using a navel as a mouth.

Breaking from the majority of sullen work performed at Cos was the humorous M.A.M.-Modern Art Modern, presented by Ciatre Copi Rait of Catalonia. Unabashedly lampooning the New York modern art movement and its main characters, the three-person cast of Lourdes Domenech, Gerard Domenech and David Ferrer brought levity into the packed Theatre Bravium. In the piece, New York innovator and multidisciplinary artist "John Phillip Etty" presents an array of his groundbreaking works, from theater to painting to dance, with hilarious irreverence. The more seriously Etty takes himself, the harder the audience laughs. All the while, his conservative interpreter and presenter (Ms. Domenech) plays the perfect straight man.

Other Cos performances worth mentioning are the excellent L'Abric by Taller Itt and Nouvelles Folies by Cie Fiat Lux, both from France; the bawdy commedia dell'arte show, Tacata i fuga performed outdoors, with the enchanting 16th century Priory Church of Saint Peter as the backdrop; and the ambitious puppet piece, La sonrisa de Federico Garcia Lorca by Bambalina Titelles of Valencia.

The Ninth Annual International Theatre Festival of Mime and Gesture will take place in fall 2006. For a quiet alternative -- or supplement  -- to the giant festivals in Edinburgh or Avignon, look to this tiny Spanish gem.


Key Subjects: 
Cos Festival, Reus, Spain, Inernational Theater Festival, Mime
Kerri Allen
Writer Bio: 
Kerri Allen is an award-winning writer and theater critic. Her work has been published in the national magazines American Theater, Latino Leaders, Hispanic Outlook and the international theater journal, Estreno (Debut). She is a staff writer for Ms. Allen's upcoming profile on playwright Tracey Scott Wilson will appear in The New York Times. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, American Theater Critics Association, and the International Association of Theater Critics.
December 2005
Four Days in Reus