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PREVIEW: ‘Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists’ at PS21 in Chatham July 5 and 6

The playwright asks: Can we defend democracy by violating its principles?

Chatham, N.Y. — It is a matter of unprecedented urgency—more urgency than you would typically expect from the U.S. premiere of a new work by Portuguese playwright Tiago Rodrigues. It is an urgency that PS21 Artistic Director Elena V. Siyanko articulates this way: “What better time to reflect on our own democratic institutions, whose future is in jeopardy as perhaps never before in our history, than July 4th weekend?” Accordingly, on July 5 and 6, PS21 is presenting what they believe is one of this or any season’s most innovative dramatic works, “Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists,” from the National Theater of Portugal and Festival d’Avignon.

Siyanko elaborates:

The premise of this dystopian work is that a Portuguese family, in retaliation for the murder of Catarina Eufémia, an agricultural laborer demanding fair wages who was shot by the Portuguese police during the Salazar dictatorship, each year kidnaps and executes a fascist.

“Catarina” is set in an imagined 2028, where a totalitarian regime has seized power in Portugal. The play portrays violence and gunshots, and one scene features a far-right demagogue whose speech is laden with vehement racism and “such hatred toward minorities that Rodrigues seems to be testing our endurance,” according to Laura Cappelle of The New York Times.

The big plot twist is that this year, one family member refuses to participate. She asks, “Can we defend democracy by violating its principles?”

Rodrigues and his cast of eight actors had expected to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of fascism in Europe. Instead, they are calling attention to a new authoritarian threat that has emerged on the European continent and beyond.

Siyanko suggests the playwright is asking, “Can theater rouse us from apathy and resignation? Can it inspire us to think about how to create a better society?” Rodrigues, Siyanko says, is betting that it can.

Rodrigues, artistic director of the Festival d’Avignon, recently wrote:

At this crucial moment for our collective future, [we] remain faithful to our fundamental ideas: popular, democratic, republican, progressive, ecological, feminist, and anti-racist. Against hatred of the other, love of difference. Against fear, the power of hope.

It is the position of PS21 that the “extraordinary times we are experiencing require new art forms and innovative approaches to time-honored disciplines.”

Clearly, Rodrigues’ play is not for the faint of heart. But neither is totalitarianism, whether in Portugal or the United States of America.

See the U.S. premiere of Taigo Rodgrigues’ “Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists” at the Pavilion Theater, 2980 Route 66, Chatham, NY 12037, on July 5 at 8 p.m. or on July 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available here.

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