Miguel de Arco, Antigone. Photo: Luis Castilla.
Current Issue, Volume 10

Madrid’s Theatre Takes Inspiration From the Greeks

There has been something in Madrid’s theatre that has seen a return to the spirit of the Greeks: plays inspired by or adapted from classical tragedies that ask fundamental questions about what democracy means and how it functions. At a time when Spain’s right-wing government appears increasingly besieged, with a fractured left and a referendum on independence scheduled in Catalonia, theatre has offered a space in which to discuss issues of identity, self, and other. An exciting new initiative at the Pavón Teatro has sought to address issues of community, providing a stronger infrastructure for the generation and production of new writing. Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched has returned for a third spell at the Abadía theatre, where over 60,000 spectators have already seen Mario Gas’s production, with Nuria Espert in a key role at the age of 82. It’s still too early to see whether the reduction of value added tax (VAT) on theatre tickets from 21% to 10% introduced this summer will boost attendance, but all the performances reviewed below had buoyant if not full houses on the evenings I saw the shows; theatre still matters in Spain’s theatrical capital.

Incendios (Scorched), written by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Eladio de Pablo, directed by Mario Gas at the Teatro de la Abadía, produced in association with Ysarca and Teatro del Invernadero

The plays of Canadian-Lebanese dramatist Wajdi Mouawad have had a strong presence in Spain. Mouawad has produced a dramatic quartet of works set in an unnamed country presumed to be Lebanon, which look at responsibility, grief, fratricide and the impact of the past on the present. Oriol Broggi staged an epic Catalan-language production of his 2003 play Scorched, the second piece in the quartet, at the Romea in 2012, presenting it again at the Biblioteca de Catalunya in 2015 [ES 1.1]. Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation, Incendies, was released in Spain in 2011, to positive reviews. Wouawad bought his French-language production to Madrid’s Teatro Español while Mario Gas was artistic director of this Madrid theatre in 2008. Its tale of displacement, civil conflict, and exile has provided a way for Spain to deal with its own troubled history of internal strife and civil war. Mario Gas has now provided a clean, urgent new staging in Castilian – first seen in September 2016 and now revived at the Teatro de la Abadía in July 2017 for a second run that will continue – barring a short break in August – into October.

Mario Gas, Incendios (Scorched). Photo: Cristina Galán.

Basque actor Ramón Barea opens the action as the notary, Hermile Lebel, called to act as executor for the last will and testament of Lebanese-born Nawal Marwan. The named beneficiaries are her 22-year old twins: mathematics PhD student, Janine, and boxer, Simon. Each has been given a request: Janine to hand a letter to the father she has never known; Simon to hand a letter to the brother he has never known. Simon is particularly angry that the mother who had refused to speak for five years has made these demands of him. Álex García characterises the twin brother as a bundle of aggressive energy, pacing angrily like a caged animal. Unable to face the earnest requests of Barea’s notary, he evades his grasp and pleas to accept Nawal’s final wishes.

Clues emerge from Simon’s heated outbursts – his mother attended courthouse trials obsessively, much to his bemusement, until one day she just stopped speaking. He fails to comprehend her silence or her final wishes. The opening scene sets the pitch for the production: a mystery to be deciphered – as per Oedipus Rex. Who was Nawal and why did she stop talking? There’s a corpse to be buried – as per Antigone – but the stone cannot be placed on the grave until the mystery has been solved. There’s a quest to be undertaken by two siblings accompanied by the chorus-like notary, a voice of reason and rationality. The production becomes a journey in search of self and a past marked by civil strife and fratricide.

Carl Fillion’s set offers a central raised platform with a screen on the back wall on which Álvaro Luna’s projections evoke a sense of place. Three playing areas allow for simultaneous action, the different spaces sometimes melding into each other, accentuated through Felipe Ramos’s lighting. Jeanne’s university class on graph theory benefits from projections showing the different configurations she is describing on the central platform as Simon argues with his sports coach about his dip in form on stage right. The back wall falls away to allow for backlighting and to provide the prison cell holding Nihad as his children confront him in the production’s final scene. The sandy floor evokes a desert landscape. Minimal objects of furniture are brought on and off as needed: a table for the notary’s office; a crate creating a makeshift table in Lebanon.

Mario Gas ensures that the action moves at a brisk pace with a sense of urgency and purpose, having actors take on the different roles using only the simplest of props to point to the change of character. Nawal between adolescence and middle age is taken by Laia Marull; the elder Nawal portrayed by 82-year old Nuria Espert, who also takes on two further roles. The two actresses give a sense of a life looked back on, of past and present intersecting. The teenage Nawal and her forbidden love Wahab (Álex García) roll about on the floor with a sense of playful abandon. Nuria Espert’s harsh Jihane, a Bernarda Alba-like mother, contrasts with her third role as the compassionate Nazira, a grandmother who wants a better future for her granddaughter. Jihane coldly insists that Nawal’s child be taken away – a child removed as Oedipus was from his blood parents. Wahab then flees and the lovers are separated like Romeo and Juliet. The change from the inflexible mother, unwilling to allow her daughter to keep the child of someone not perceived to be “one of them,” to a more tolerant grandmother happens with the simplest of moves –  a scarf and shawl reconfigured across Espert’s head to create a hunched figure and a crouching move into a chair to suggest infirmity. Nazira and Nawal clutched together suggests an image of complicity and closeness, a backlit dying old woman urging her granddaughter to learn to read and write. Nazira wants her granddaughter to acquire an education that will allow her to think for herself, break the thread of anger that binds the family, and then return to engrave her name on the tomb where Nazira will be buried.

The action jumps between past and present: Nazira’s death is followed by the elderly Nawal’s burial. A trap door reveals Nawal’s burial site, projected trees suggesting a green, peaceful cemetery. Jeanne’s investigation into her mother’s past progresses as Nawal’s life from adolescence to adulthood advances. Lucía Barrado’s Sawda enters the young Nawal’s life as she returns to her village to carve her grandmother’s name on the tomb, while Wahab, a refugee from the south, pleads urgently to be allowed to accompany Nawal on the next phase of her journey. Wahab has been urged to forget the atrocities carried out against her family but cannot. For Nawal too, forgetting is not an option.

Contrasting with Álex García’s animated Simon is Candela Serrat’s rational Jeanne. She realizes that not all questions have definitive answers. She is willing to try to understand her mother’s silence sitting by on the floor listening to 500 hours of tapes of her mother’s breathing recorded by Nawal’s nurse Antoine (Alberto Iglesias). These moments of silence, an attempt to make space for the unexplained and unexplainable, also provide opportunities for the play to breathe. Gas’s production may be fast-paced, but it isn’t afraid to let the action stop as if to allow for a moment of contemplation, a moment to take stock and work out what the next step might be.

Photos of Nawal are projected above the actors taking the viewer back into the past. A photo that Antoine blows up for Jeanne hovers above the stage showing Jeanne and Sawda standing together by a burned-out bus in the late 1970s. The attack on the bus, narrated by Nawal, is accompanied by the burning up of the photo on the screen. The image disappears into nothingness as Nawal comes to the end of the tale of carnage. The elder and the younger Nawal face each other as Jeanne makes the decision to visit her mother’s country of birth in search of answers to her mother’s silence.

Objects reappear – clues to the past that the play encourages the audience to take note of: the clown nose that the teenager Wahab gives Nawal in scene 22, the jacket with the number seventy-two that Nawal wore in Kfar Rayat prison, and the red notebook that Nawal leaves for Simon. There is a sense of urgency in the way that Barrado’s Sawda and Marull’s Nawal narrate the atrocities they have witnessed: a mother faced with the terrifying decision of having to choose which of her three sons a militiaman will save, a bus filled with refugees doused with gas and then set on fire. The fire in their voices contrasts with the stillness that marks Espert’s Nawal as she gives testimony before the tribunal on her torturer, Abou Tarek. The voice of García’s Simon is layered over hers as he reads out the testimony from her red book – the discovery in the present overcoming the act in the past as the two voices merge together. Espert’s hands are wrung together, fingers entwined as she tries to keep going, directly addressing the violent rapist who impregnated her.

In the production’s final section, Nihad, both father and brother to the twins, appears. A slit opens up at the back to suggest a surveillance window from which Germán Torres’s predator shoots out mercilessly. The deafening sound of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” offers a pulsating beat for Nihad’s reign of terror. He tears through the fabric of Nawal’s testimony. Against the shadows of the siblings on the wall, he darts and dives, dragging the photographer brutally across the floor before shooting him, as the photograph of the dead man projects onto the screen above.

As the pieces of the jigsaw come together, the siblings are reunited in Lebanon, where Simon has traveled with Lebel in search of both his mother and his sister. Here Simon discovers from Iglesias’s Chamsedinne that the deadly Nihad is his brother, the same man who changed his name to Abou Tarek, and always searched for the mother he never knew, not knowing that he had found her in the most terrible of circumstances. Espert’s Nawal watches from stage left as the revelations tumble and Nihad sings John Lennon’s “Mother” – similarly written for a mother Lennon barely knew – with heartfelt pain. At the back of the cell Nihad/Abou stands behind the iron door, as his mother reads out the letters she had asked her children to pass him. Above and around the prison door, the letter is projected, its words surrounding the dismissive Nihad. He rips each letter up, the second somewhat less hurriedly than the first.

Espert’s Nawal then goes on to narrate the letters she left for her children, were they to complete the tasks. Her voice rings out as the twins read the letter in silence. Sawda and Lebel are to one side, Antoine and Nadid to another as Nawal asks them to reconstitute history. The cast then come together, sitting side by side, both Nawals looking at the son who raped them and who now sits alongside them. As the rain falls, the cast lift up a plastic sheet to cover them all – all bound together by history and blood – and Janine and Simon listen to their mother’s silence.

There isn’t a false note in the production, the top-notch cast of seven moving across twenty-three roles. The lean-faced Barea excels as a range of characters: the loyal Lebel, a compassionate figure who just wants to what’s best for his dead friend; the compassionate, grounded village elder Abdessamad whom Jeanne approaches about her mother; and Malak, the man who took in Nawal’s babies and then returned them to her when she was released from prison, a figure whose role recalls that of the shepherd in Oedipus Rex. Alberto Iglesias takes on six roles, including the janitor who took the child Nawal gave birth to in prison when raped by Abou Tarek, and Antoine, the nurse who listens to his patient’s silence, encouraging her daughter to do the same. Candela Serrat captures the rational presence of Jeanne while Álex García imbues Simon with the fire that marks his father/brother. Germán Torres’s Nihad is terrifying, as the actor’s only role he bursts into the play like a knife with feverish eyes and a temper to match. Lucia Barrado captures the determination of Sawda and the pragmatism of Elhame, the village midwife that gives away Nawal’s first-born son. Laia Marull depicts the passion of a cause and the pain of the consequences it brings. And then there is Nuria Espert, head leaning forward like an ancient tortoise as she inspires her granddaughter to learn to read and write, the process of revelation playing out on her face quietly as she watches Nihad place the clown nose given to him by his mother at birth. In El País,  Espert has observed, “No hay un texto más actual que Incendios” (There is no text more of this moment than Scorched)(14 Sep. 2016).With the wounds of the Civil War still very present and ongoing debates in Spain about the trafficking of stolen babies prominent in the press – illegal adoptions in Spain between 1950 and 1980 are thought to number up to 300,000 (El País, 11 March 2011) –  Incendios’s motifs resonate strongly for Spanish audiences. Mario Gas choreographs a production that shows a society facing up to its past with the intensity of a tragedy as terrible and resonant as Antigone.

Sophocles’ Antígona/Antigone, adapted and directed by Miguel del Arco at El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze, originally prodced by Teatro de la Ciudad and Teatro de la Abadía

Miguel del Arco has chosen to restage his production of Antigone — first seen as part of the Teatro de la Ciudad’s (Theatre of the City’s) Greek season in 2015 – in his second El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze season. Del Arco and his artistic team, including co-directors Israel Elejalde, Aitor Tejada, and Jordi Buxó, took over Madrid’s Pavón theatre in September 2016 without a euro of state subsidy, creating what they termed a private theatre with the vocation of a public theatre. The Pavón was the temporary home of the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico, or CNTC, for 12 years and its stage hosts the ghosts of the Spanish theatre’s Golden Age repertoire. El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze’s first 10-month season saw 36 productions, generating 500 performances and bringing over 80,000 spectators to the venue. There have been innovative readings of classic works and the revival of acclaimed past productions by del Arco – including his 2009 version of Six Characters in Search of an Author, La función por hacer (The Performance to Come), and his reflection on the myth of Helen of Troy, Juicio a una zorra (Judging a Vixen), first seen at the Mérida festival in 2011. Juicio a una zorra has also been part of the showcasing of new writing that has proved a strong feature of the program. The new writing program is partly funded by the three euro donation requested for all complementary tickets, an innovative way of getting around the high proportion of free tickets given out to industry guests in Spanish theatre. Productions in the 2016-17 season included an adaptation of Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott, titled Iphigenia en Vallecas, which returns in December 2017, and José Masegosa’s El ascensor (The Lift), which again returns from 14 October to 5 November 2017. In the space of less than a year, El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze has created a significant reference point for theatre goers in the city: you get the sense that this is a place where theatre matters and where plays speak of community to an audience that wants to feel part of this initiative. The buzz is palpable.

August is usually the month where Madrid lies empty, residents leaving the city for cooler corners of the country. It is not easy to find anything to see in the city during this time beyond musicals and flamenco shows aimed at tourists, but del Arco has chosen to provide a packed summer of work, opening his second season (due to run until January 2018) of thirteen productions, including seven premieres and six revivals of recent stagings. The opening production, Antígona (henceforth Antigone), reunites him with Carmen Machi, the actress for whom he created Juicio para una zorra. Originally presented as part of a triptych of Greek works bringing together three leading writer-directors – del Arco, Alfredo Sanzol, and Andrés Lima – in “una apuesta por la investigación, reflexión, producción y exhibición del teatro contemporáneo” (a gamble for research, reflection, production and exhibition of contemporary theatre), the initiative saw open workshops on the earliest Western theatre texts leading to del Arco’s Antigone, Lima’s Medea and Sanzol’s Oedipus Rex. The short run of Antigone at the Abadía in 2015 has now been followed by a return to the Pavón with the majority of the original cast intact; only Santi Marín has been replaced as Polynices/chorus member by Yon González

Del Arco’s high energy production pits Manuela Paso’s elfin Antigone against Carmen Machi’s hearty Creon. Here, Creon is a mother, still recovering from the death of her son Megareus that resulted from the conflict unleashed when her nephews Eteocles and Polynices went to war over the crown of Thebes. Both brothers have perished at each other’s hands and the foreign army that Polynices brought in to assist him has retreated. Creon now rules Thebes and has decreed that Eteocles is to be buried with full military honors while Polynices is left to rot, unburied, a warning to those who would rise up against the established order.

The set, designed by Eduardo Moreno, Alejandro Andújar and Beatriz San Juan, boasts a giant ball that hovers above the actors. On its translucent surface, projections reveal a globe, a fireball, a full moon, and an all-seeing eye. The ball swings dangerously, appearing ever so slightly out of control, a pendulum and force of nature that threatens to crush the writhing corpse of Polynices that opens the production. The dead Polynices lashes out like a dog on a leash, calling out above ground for burial as the manifestation of an inverted natural order. It is the voice of the spectre and it is heard by his scraggy younger sister Antigone (Manuela Paso). Her more feminine sister Ismene (Ángela Cremonte), in a grey tunic dress and ankle boots, tries to dissuade her from disobeying Creon’s edict, but Paso’s Antigone (literally) stands firm. This jittery Ismene places her hands over her ears to shut out Antigone’s pleas; she wants to forget the past as she looks over her shoulder as if fearing surveillance. No one is safe from the eye that patrols the performance of public punishment meted out in death for the errant Polynices.

Miguel de Arco, Antigone. Photo: Luis Castilla.

This Antigone is as determined as her opponent. Her voice may not be as resonant nor her steps as firm, but her resolve is as purposeful as that of Creon. Physically they are located as opposites; Antigone in loose fitting fatigues that appear to swamp her, Creon in tight-fitting leather trousers, heeled boots and a figure-hugging impeccably cut black jacket. Creon cultivates an image that points to stability and order. Her red hair is styled to suggest both a feminine softness and a neatness indicative of rigor and order. Her moves are those of a ruler who choreographs her performance of leadership: defiant steps, fixed glances, a raised head, and hands deployed to control the space around her. Fingers are pointed to emphasize the importance of the decree, as Creon speaks with the air of a politician who has dutifully rehearsed her speeches in the hope of persuading those around her of the righteousness of her vision through sheer will of character (rather than seduction). This Creon does not appear a natural leader; hers is a performance crafted to keep dissent at bay. The image of Theresa May during the 2017 election campaign certainly came to mind while watching Carmen Machi’s Creon progressively unravel. She defends Eteocles unquestioningly as “un heroe de la patria” (a patriotic hero). She has lost one son, Megareus, in the battle to defend Thebes; moving forward, she wants to ensure that there are no further family casualties.

The play may be called Antigone but Machi’s performance renders Creon’s flaws as the production’s central axis. Her insistence on ensuring the decree is policed appears to be a means of convincing herself as well as Thebes of her rightful actions. “La ley es la razón,” (Law is reason) she states, convinced of the moral certitude of her edict. Her verbal tussles with Antigone, Haemon, and Tiresias are there to test her resolve from different ideological viewpoints. Only when she realizes that she may lose her only surviving son, Raúl Prieto’s buttoned up and slightly gawky Haemon, does she realize that she must opt for a change of tactic. Her appearance becomes progressively more disheveled as the production advances: jacket discarded, hair increasingly unkempt, the choreographed movements replaced by a more fidgety physical register. In the production’s final moments, unable to save her son who slits his throat mourning the dead Antigone, she clutches his body in desperation, her body convulsing in grief and pain. Machi is a household name in Spain, and her brave, fearless performance offers a different register for viewers who associate her with the popular sitcom 7 vidas (7 Lives).

Juanjo Llorens’s lighting is harsh and unforgiving. Search lights at different levels are placed behind a ripped curtain that sits at the back of the stage, signalling the culture of surveillance that Creon has put into operation. They pick out the faces and bodies of the chorus as they move across the back of the stage, shadowy presences in constant movement, contracting and expanding like a human accordion through Antonio Ruz’s expert choreography. Characters and chorus are presented as a single entity. The characters emerge from the chorus and then retreat back into it. The chorus circle Creon and create a corridor for her to walk through as she addresses the audience. They swarm and surround; they then stand back and contemplate. The urgency of the production comes in part from their sweeping presence, a plague of sorts that hovers over the city and its inhabitants. The chorus is the danger within, the body of the masses, and it is from this body that the players step forward to take their roles in the unraveling tragedy.

José Luis Martínez’s fool-like sentry laps up his moment in the limelight, unraveling his story of Polynices’s makeshift burial while avoiding Creon’s eye. When he later brings the culprit, Antigone, in on a leash, displaying her like a prize animal brought into market, he looks like the cat who has the cream, positioning himself awkwardly between the still and silent Antigone and the horrified Creon. As Antigone reiterates the case for burying her brother as an act of humanity, Creon clamps her hand over her mouth, silencing her in anger. She pushes Antigone away when the latter reaches out to her over the shared loss of loved ones. The pain of losing Megareus is palpably written all over Machi’s face.

Prieto’s Haemon is an awkward communicator and reaches out to his mother in largely physical ways. He holds her hand as he pleads for a change of mind. When they hug, her body visibly relaxes. He moves towards her, trying to indicate how she’s out of tune with opinions in the city. This is a son whose desperation is evident but his gauche pleas fall on deaf ears. His voice quivers as he begs for clemency one final time. His quiet words sound out against her inflexible, automatic response that he needs to “callar y obedecer” (shut up and obey).

But it is Creon who finally shuts up and obeys when the blind Tiresias appears to warn her of the anger of the gods at Polynices’ predicament, being left as fodder for scavenging birds and beasts. Cristóbal Suárez’s lean Tiresias shadows Creon like a giant bird. A mane of blond hair cascades down his face as his bony hands reach out like Tim Burton’s Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and his hollow eyes stare out like those of a deranged rock icon. She cannot face him as he speaks of terrors the gods will unleash when faced with Creon’s arrogance. She spits out her words like bullets, repenting only when Tiresias has left and she has had time to process the implications of his warning.

While Creon occupies the horizontal terrain, Antigone is associated first with the underworld – the need for proper burial for her brother narrated by Antigone as she stands firm – and then the spectral. Hoisted up by the chorus on a harness she is led into the giant ball – the cave where she is left to die. Her position evokes Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a similarly universal icon. As Creon prepares to sell her change of mind to the city, Haemon brings Antigone’s lifeless body on stage. His body draped over hers in grief, he then rises up like a phoenix from the ashes with knife in hand to confront his mother, who coils back in horror as he slits his own throat in front of her. He collapses and she howls as she tries in vain to stem the blood flow. At the production’s end, she has blood on her hands both literally and metaphorically

Watching Antigone on the Pavón stage, the spectres of plays such as El alcalde de Zalamea (The Mayor of Zalamea), La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream), and El castigo sin venganza (Punishment without Vengeance), which have strong echoes of Sophocles’ play, resonated through the production. If Shakespeare functioned as the means through which to explore the nation’s democratic values in the 1980s, the Greeks have now emerged as the means for exploring the limits of its democracy in these politically troubled times – I saw the production in the week of the terrorist attack in Barcelona, with a besieged right-wing central government swamped in corruption scandals and a Catalan referendum on independence scheduled for 1 October much to the ire of the Popular Party Government. Spain’s own recent history of civil strife makes the myth of Antigone particularly resonant. Del Arco’s reading may not be overtly political – there is no attempt to present Creon as a Franco-like figure – but the country’s polarized political landscape functions as an effective lens through which to read the production. Over 100,000 corpses – Federico García Lorca among them — are thought to remain in mass graves across the length and breadth of the country, denied proper burial as the victims of a civil war where they had the misfortune to be on the losing side. Antigone’s insistence that Polynices be given due burial speaks of a wider sense of respect for the dead. Creon may represent the force of a state that prioritizes self-protection, but her inflexibility warns of the dangers of non-humanity in governance. The duty of care to the dead was about ensuring that the souls of the departed could make their way to the underworld; it was a way of honoring the memory of those who had passed away. Paso’s Antigone never tries to defend Polynices’s actions; he may have been the city’s enemy but he deserves the rites of burial and she needs to ensure he receives those rights. It is more than just about family, it is about what it means to be human. The vanquished deserved burial as much as the victors. It is a lesson Franco and his forces never heeded and one which is the overriding concern of del Arco’s lucid staging.

Arte (Art) written by Yasmina Reza, translated by Fernando Gómez Grande and Rodolf Sirera, directed by Miguel del Arco, at El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze

One of the characteristics of Teatro Kamikaze is that a member of the artistic directorate comes on stage to welcome the audience. On the late August night when I saw Antigone, del Arco was accompanied by no less than two of his co-directors, Jordi Buxó and Aitor Tejada, announcing highlights from the new season as well as some of the online resources that the company boasts. It is what del Arco terms “a live trailer” that facilitates direct communication with the audience. On the July evening when I saw del Arco’s new production of Yasmina Reza’s 1994 play, Art, which closed the 2016-17 season and returns from 23 November to 7 January in the 2017-18 season, it was Jordi Buxó who warmly greeted us, reminding us that “esta es vuestra casa” (this is your home) and asking us to turn off our mobile phones. On a hot Madrid summer evening, the theatre was full, a reminder that this production has garnered outstanding reviews and is one of the stand-out events of the summer.

Del Arco’s production, using Fernando Gómez Grande and Rodolf Sirera’s lithe translation, is clean and lean, an uncluttered, raked stage with just a clothes rail, water glasses, and props brought on and off by the cast of three as necessary. The action is orchestrated with an accompanying baroque soundtrack and a sense of brisk game play worthy of Marivaux. The color palate is tastefully beige. Alessio Meloni’s costumes provide an instant evaluation of each character:  Cristóbal Suárez’s tall, angular dermatologist, Sergio, is dressed in a voguish suit, trendily tight and coordinated with expensive patent leather brogues and no socks. He is a man especially concerned with his appearance. Roberto Enriquez’s engineer, Marcos, has a more casual look, with trainers and an unbuttoned short over a tee-shirt. The relaxed appearance hides a series of anxieties that tumble as the action evolves. Jorge Usón’s somewhat more rotund, bespectacled Iván, now working for his in-laws, is often positioned by del Arco between the Sergio and Marcos. Gauche with his checked shirt and worn shoes, Iván is the easy target, the piggy in the middle through which the two men conduct their alpha male battle.

Miguel de Arco, Arte. Photo: Vanessa Rabade.

When Sergio buys an Antrios original painting he is thrilled. Convincing his best friends Marcos and Iván that this is a great purchase, however, doesn’t prove easy. Marcos thinks he has been swindled out of 30,000 euros, seeing just a brilliant white canvas with a few barely decipherable horizontal textured white lines. The conciliatory Iván, about to get married to a woman that neither Sergio nor Marcos particularly like, just wants to keep both men happy and avoid any unnecessary stress. His platitudes are about saying nothing that either man might find offensive, so as to preserve his friendship with them both.

Sergio dances around his pristine painting with glee, as if it were a dance partner. He introduces it first to Marcos and then to Iván as if it were a new girlfriend. He puts on white gloves to handle the painting, placing it on a tripod for its exhibition to his friends with the care of an expert curator. Marcos thinks the painting is a joke and a waste of money, annoyed that his childhood friend should have invested so heavily without consulting him first. Marcos may appear jovial and easy going but the exterior hides a more controlling character who likes to remain in charge at all times. He moves almost like a boxer, delivering tirades on his friend’s irresponsibility with the venom of a jilted lover. He moves from one emotional extreme to another, his brief moments of self-reflection followed by venomous harangues. Marcos sees only a blank canvas; Sergio identifies a world of subtle inflections with greys and reds; Iván isn’t sure what’s there but it doesn’t matter to him. Juggling a new job, an impending wedding, therapy, and a bundle of relatives who each have their own views on his forthcoming nuptials, he has more pressing concerns on his plate.

Just as Sergio has his Antrios, Iván has a painting in his home of a woman holding a dog – kitsch, clumsy, and childlike. Marcos has a landscape of Carcassonne – unobtrusive, plain and uninspiring. The characters break the fourth wall to address the audience with precision, a move that fosters a sense of complicity and helps us feel part of the action. Marcos and Sergio each seek to win the audience over to their view. Sergio blames Marcos, not for disliking the painting, but instead for his insensitivity. Marcos reveals that it makes him physically ill that his friend has bought a white painting. Their responses reveal their irritability – neither can respond in a manner that the other judges appropriate. The pace cranks up in the second half as Marcos and Sergio’s bickering worsens. Marcos’s conciliatory remark that he is too thin-skinned is greeted by a response from Sergio that he “read Seneca,” which inspires a new level of irate responses from Marcos.

Iván just wants to keep everyone happy including his wife-to-be Catalina and his therapist – characters who are never seen but who become as real as the trio of men. All three characters stand or sit at the side of the stage when not part of the scene, and a bell rings to announce each scene, almost as if signalling a round of a boxing match. The actors throw props and items of clothing to each other to set up a scene and return items back to each other to place at the sides of the stage. The set up and changes are crisp and quick, ensuring the action remain fluid and vigorous, with scenes blending into one another with a bracing sense of purpose.

Jorge Usón’s Iván is in many ways of the revelation of the production. He scrambles across the floor looking for his felt tip pen with the sense of a manic dog. The breathless delivery of his phone conversation with his mother as he arrives late for dinner with Marcos and Sergio is one of the high points of the production: he negotiates the different feuding step-mothers and mothers with the pace of a firing gun. As Marcos and Sergio argue over Seneca, Iván places himself between them, trying to please all concerned, and even physically intervening to stop the two men from attacking each other and suffering a blow in the process.

The pairings shift and reconfigure. One moment Marcos and Sergio cruelly gang up on the increasingly besieged Iván who is clutching an icepack to soothe his bruising. They suggest he back out of the wedding, adding to his woes. A few moments later it is Iván and Marcos hugging in complicity. The art work – moved increasingly to one side – becomes just the catalyst for the unravelling of the men’s friendship as insults fly: Iván is called a flabby amoeba and arselicker by Marcos; Sergio insults Marcos through his partner Paula, whom he refers to as a life-denying woman. Iván and Marcos hug in complicity: Sergio turns on Iván and Marcos, calling them “a pair of fossils.” The trio shift constantly into different physical configurations, a choreography that gives the production the air of agile danztheater.

Only when Iván bursts into tears does the mood shift. Sergio hands Marcos a felt tip pen to defile the painting and the latter draws a skier making his way down a slope to relax the mood. The final scene has the three men looking at the newly cleaned painting with a post-storm sense of calm. Some sort of reconciliation has been reached as Marcos describes the painting as representing a man who moves across a space and disappears.

Miguel de Arco, Arte. Photo: Vanessa Rabade.

There has been no shortage of strong productions of Art in Spain. Josep Maria Flotats 1997 production with José María Pou and Carlos Hipólito was more leisurely and fey in its pacing and tone. At Pou’s Goya theatre late last year, Pere Arquillué, Francesc Orella and Lluís Xavier Villanueva performed in Miquel Gorriz’s Catalan-language staging, adapted by dramatist Jordi Galceran into a tale of social exclusion and snobbery. Del Arco’s reading is no less angry, no less political, no less funny, and no less contemporary, reminding us of the play’s astute observations on the corrosive schisms that threaten friendships built up over decades.

Barbados, etcétera, written and directed by Pablo Remón, El Pavon Teatro Kamikaze in association with La_Abducción

One of the eight new plays presented at the Pavon-Kamikaze during the 2016-17 season has been Pablo Remón’s compact triptych, Barbados etcétera, a production created in association with Remón’s company La_Abducción, and which returns to the 2017-18 season for a run between del 16 October and 2 November. Crafted for two actors, Argentine Fernanda Orazi and Spaniard Emilio Tomé, the text, highly evocative of Neil LaBute’s writing, functions as a reflection on coupledom, with wry observations on the shared pasts that keep people together. There are references to performance acts, to US indie movies, and to Jules Verne’s adventurous tales — all referents that the play negotiates.

Three narratives of couples negotiating crises are woven together as a single piece. The set has a single blue fluorescent sign spelling out the title of the play. Two actors walk in dressed in formal evening wear. She wears long black dress; he a black suit. They begin to spin the first of three stories about couples coming together in the most unlikely of circumstances. Each interrogates the other on the characteristics of the couple, and the relationship in question, each propels the narrative forward with a revelation or question, each provokes the other to take the tale in an unexpected direction, each delineates the ways in which a relationship may shift from togetherness to a break-up, from love to hate. He delineates how he detests the smell of her body next to his; she questions his retelling of memories she does not agree with. The fabricated nature of the tale is never evaded. “Doesn’t it sound like a film?” she asks him at one point. The wandering upholsterer in love, whose van plays Philip Glass’s Quartet number 3, has something of the spirit of Odysseus.

The couple evoke a series of visual images and a sonic landscape through words: a music video from the 1980s; a dream where she envisages accompanying her teen idol Joey Tempest, the lead singer from Europe, to a new planetary order to escape a storm of meteorites. Each pause at different moments to contemplate, indulge or question the other. Fantasies are indulged – her new life as the life partner of her childhood idol – but also recognised as such, with their spaceship recalling the van from the Scooby Doo series. Barbados becomes a place of escape as fanciful and fantastic as any of their spun tales. “Etcétera” recognises the continuous nature of the narrative, a tale that goes on until the narrator stops or refashions it; each story is subject to endless variations and permutations. This is a play about what it means to think about and to share those thoughts with an audience willing to undertake a journey into the interior of a couple’s mind.

Pablo Remón, Barbadoes, etcétera. Photo: Vanessa Rabade.

The actors rarely catch each other’s eye, it is as if they exist in two different worlds. They talk as if over each other, the different rhythms of their voices accentuating the tonal shifts. Fernanda Orazi has a strong Argentinian inflection: clipped and precise delivery with a lilt that both soothes and hides an aggression within. Her voice is faster and more urgent. Emilio Tomé is blander, less emotional, and less involved. They move across each other, rarely standing together – the narratives may at moments point to togetherness but the bodily positions suggest the fractures that each relationship will suffer. Remón’s writing is precise, his production no less so. It’s an uncomfortable, engaging fifty minutes in the Pavon’s studio space, and indicates the strength of the new writing initiative that Teatro Kamikaze has promoted.


Maria M. Delgado is Professor and Director of Research at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, and Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Modern Language Research at the University of London. Her books include “Other” Spanish Theatres: Erasure and Inscription on the Twentieth Century Spanish Stage (Manchester University Press, 2003, updated Spanish-language edition published by Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2017) and Federico García Lorca (Routledge, 2008), and the co-edited Contemporary European Theatre Directors (Routledge, 2010), A History of Theatre in Spain (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and A Companion to Latin American Cinema (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). She has published two collections of translations for Methuen and is co-editor of Contemporary Theatre Review.


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European Stages, vol. 10, no. 1 (Fall 2017)

Editorial Board:

Marvin Carlson, Senior Editor, Founder

Krystyna Illakowicz, Co-Editor

Dominika Laster, Co-Editor

Kalina Stefanova, Co-Editor

Editorial Staff:

Taylor Culbert, Managing Editor

Nick Benacerraf, Editorial Assistant

Advisory Board:

Joshua Abrams
Christopher Balme
Maria Delgado
Allen Kuharsky
Bryce Lease
Jennifer Parker-Starbuck
Magda Romańska
Laurence Senelick
Daniele Vianello
Phyllis Zatlin

Table of Contents:

  1. The 2017 Avignon Festival: July 6 – 26, Witnessing Loss, Displacement, and Tears by Philippa Wehle
  2. A Reminder About Catharsis: Oedipus Rex by Rimas Tuminas, A Co-Production of the Vakhtangov Theatre and the National Theatre of Greece by Dmitry Trubochkin
  3. The Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2017 in Brussels by Manuel Garcia Martinez
  4. A Female Psychodrama as Kitchen Sink Drama: Long Live Regina! in Budapest by Gabriella Schuller
  5. Madrid’s Theatre Takes Inspiration from the Greeks by Maria Delgado
  6. A (Self)Ironic Portrait of the Artist as a Present-Day Man by Maria Zărnescu
  7. Throw The Baby Away With the Bath Water?: Lila, The Child Monster of The B*easts by Shastri Akella
  8. Report from Switzerland by Marvin Carlson
  9. A Cruel Theatricality: An Essay on Kjersti Horn’s Staging of the Kaos er Nabo Til Gud (Chaos is the Neighbour of God) by Eylem Ejder
  10. Szabolcs Hajdu & the Theatre of Midlife Crisis: Self-Ironic Auto-Bio Aesthetics on Hungarian Stages by Herczog Noémi
  11. Love Will Tear Us Apart (Again): Katie Mitchell Directs Genet’s Maids by Tom Cornford
  12. 24th Edition of Sibiu International Theatre Festival: Spectacular and Memorable by Emiliya Ilieva
  13. Almagro International Theatre Festival: Blending the Local, the National and the International by Maria Delgado
  14. Jess Thom’s Not I & the Accessibility of Silence by Zoe Rose Kriegler-Wenk
  15. Theatertreffen 2017: Days of Loops and Fog by Lily Kelting
  16. War Remembered Onstage at Reims Stages Europe: Festival Report by Dominic Glynn

www.EuropeanStages.org

europeanstages@gc.cuny.edu

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center:

Frank Hentschker, Executive Director

Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications

Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

©2016 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

The Graduate Center CUNY Graduate Center

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New York NY 10016

 

 

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