Obsession in a Havana Theater

After waiting for a doctor who never arrives, his patients decide to hold their own group therapy session to discuss their obsessions (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Miami, 25 May 2019 — Outside his office six patients await the arrival of their doctor. Each one suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a toc* in psychiatric jargon. Since there is no sign of the therapist, they agree to hold their own group therapy session in an attempt to alleviate everyone’s suffering.

This is the premise of Toc Toc, an amusing comedy now on view at the Sala Arenal after a successful two-week run at the El Sotano theater.

The French comedian and playwright Laurent Baffie (1958) was the first to successfully take on the challenge of making people laugh at the effects of a psychiatric disorder. In 2006 the play received the Molière Prize for theater. In 2017 the Spanish filmmaker Vicente Villanueva took the work to the big screen.

The production’s first surprise comes after audience members are asked to turn off their cell phones. They are then told they may take photos and make videos in order to publicize the event.

Little by little, the characters are introduced. First, there is Alfredo (Iván Balmaseda), a very respectable man who cannot control his urge to utter obscene words (Tourette’s syndrome). Then there is Vicente (José Alejandro), a taxi driver who feels the irrepressible desire to count everything, doing endless calculations in his head with each number (arithmomania).

Later, Blanca (Yamira Díaz), a nurse obsessed with cleanliness (nosophobia), appears. She is followed by young Lily (Ana Pomares), who suffers because she is forced to repeat everything she says (palilalia and pcolalia).

Maria (Yanel Gómez / Ludmila Alonso) is tormented by the obsession to constantly check everything (compulsive verification disorder). Finally, there is Boby (Rafael Alonso), the youngest of the group who is terrified of stepping on the floor and has a habit of arranging everything symmetrically (obsession with lines).

Once all the patients have arrived, the doctor’s secretary (played by the actor Jaime Jiménez) makes his entrance. These sporadic but vibrant appearances elicit reactions from the patients unlike those of any known pathology.

Director Hugo Alberto Vargas stages the comedy using a simple but flexible set design. The best moments are those that rely the movements of the actors, who come down from the stage and interact with the audience, who participate without being subjected to extreme pressures.

Leadership struggles, romances, quarrels and controlled mayhem are convincingly portrayed with both verbal and body language.

Obviously, the work has been adapted to appeal to a national audience, although at no time is there is any allusion to the country or city where the events are taking place. However, the jokes that drew the most laughter are ones that could only understood in Cuba, especially the one about “mild, subversive perfume.”

If there is anything that stands out in the Cuban version of Toc Toc, it is its cautionary moral message, its emphasis on the positive effects of human solidarity. But after two hours in which the actors have tried to convey the feeling that “not everything is hopeless,” it seems unnecessary to beat home the message so relentlessly.

It is undeniable that the entire audience was entertained, and not in a vulgar way, while learning something about disorders of human behavior.

*Translator’s note: Abbreviation for transtorno obsesivo compulso (obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD) in Spanish.


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