Current Issue, Volume 17

Participation, Documentary and Adaptation: Barcelona Theatre May 2022

By Maria Delgado

Adieu Arturo/Goodbye, La Cubana, Teatre Coliseum

I watched the La Cubana’s Catalan iteration of Adios Arturo, titled Adieu Arturo/Goodbye Arturo at the Coliseum Theatre Barcelona two days after the death of one of La Cubana’s key actors, Jaume Baucis. The ghost of his presence from so many years of watching La Cubana’s productions hovered over my reading of the staging. He had played the larger-than-life ageing Bel Canto diva Renata Pampanini in the Castilian-language Adios Arturo which I had seen at Bilbao’s Arriaga Theatre in 2018 – tottering on stage in a resplendent outfit to sing the “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” aria from Carmen – voice quivering across the auditorium as they teetered in heels across the stage serenading the coffin of the recently deceased Arturo (see image 1). Jaume had been with La Cubana since 1988 and played a decisive role in creating their larger-than-life characters from the upwardly mobile portly Count of Rierola in 2016’s Gente Bien (European Stages, Vol 9, 2017, http://europeanstages.org/2017/04/26/re-framing-the-classics-la-cubana-reinvent-rusinol-and-the-lliure-revisit-beaumarchais/) to the keen usher Ramon in Cegada de amor (Blinded by Love, 1994) and dual roles as Richard MacMaster the drunken tenor and Roberto the all too easily seduced husband of mezzo Violeta Santesmases in Una nit d’òpera (A Night at the Opera, 2001). His unrequited love for Margarita as Modesto in Campanadas de boda (Wedding Bells, 2012) was both poignant and moving, a veritable contrast to the larger-than-life wedding planner Jesús – one of the numerous roles played by Baucis in the production. Indeed, he excelled in moving across different roles, unrecognizable in an array of contrasting characters. He had a glorious sense of comic timing, a wonderful ability to fold in the audience – whatever their responses to the participatory journey of the company’s shows — and a face that could move from the grotesque to the sublime in an instant. Jaume had much of the commedia dell’arte performer, with an understanding of the power of gesture – elements of Harold Lloyd and Oliver Hardy and a real vaudeville streak ran across his many roles. But it will be the humanity that he brought to his roles that stays with me – the sanguine Sebastià, the husband of the aspiring Angelina, neighbour to the three sisters in the TV series Teresina S.A (1992) is perhaps emblematic of these. Rest in peace Jaume Baucis.

Adieu Arturo lands in Barcelona long after the company first planned to bring it to their home city. Covid delayed the latter parts of the production’s tour – including its Madrid and Barcelona runs but it now features as a component of the production, regularly referred to by the characters that come together to mourn the literary and social icon Arturo Cirera Mompou. And indeed as I, a longtime spectator of La Cubana, mourned the passing of Baucis, the audience came together to mourn Arturo.  For La Cubana has been contracted to stage Arturo’s funeral and Act 1 of the piece sees a theatre full of mourners – the audience – representing the different bodies and societies he supported – from the English Association of Friends of Bullfighting to the Association of Friends of Bel Canto. The illuminated coffin lies centre stage, in front of a large portrait of a smiling Arturo and a plethora of medals displayed on a red velvet board. At the back of the stage and lined across the walls of the stall there are wreathes of white flowers from the good and the great of Spain – from Pedro Almodóvar, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem to the Ministry of Culture, the Royal Family and the Catalan Government. An array of ushers in the company’s trademark shades of lime green, bright yellow, bold purple and neon pink lead the audience to their seats and introduce the different acts who are invited to pay their respects to the polymath Arturo. This is a funeral service with no space for black, no time for melancholy mourning, celebration is the order of the day in what is a cabaret show of different acts playing their respects with musical numbers to the full life that Arturo led. The chief mourner is his beloved parrot Ernesto much to the disdain of his rapacious family who have been side-lined by his will. A cradle-to-grave film of Arturo’s life incorporates references to the Coliseum – once a cinema Arturo visited as a child and bombed during the Civil War in 1938. Arturo was an observer of key events of the twentieth century but also managed to escape with his family – Houdini-like – when the going got tough: leaving battle-torn Spain during the Civil War for France; then escaping the Nazi invasion of France by heading to Switzerland. Arturo travelled – to Cuba, England, the USA and many more places — while also retaining a place for Catalonia and Andorra in his affections. The Association of Friends of Andorra in the World features a musical number involving skis and duty-free products prized by those who were able to travel to Andorra to purchase them during the Franco regime.  “I want to go to Andorra” becomes the hymn of a band of US hippies impressed by this small country’s minuscule defence budget (image 2). A folkloric dance featuring castanets and guitars by the Association of Friends of Twinning and Trampantojo in Catalonia exposes the constructed images of folkloric Spain. Renata Pampanini (now played by Víctor G. Casademunt) wrapped in a fur coat of rusty orange teeters across the stage threatening to fall into the audience or the coffin at any moment. Bullfighting aficionado, Lady Olivia Peterson’s cut glass English tones (brilliantly rendered by Núria Benet) prove impossible to translate in one of the production’s funniest moments. Her delivery of “The Reliquary”, a pasodoble originally premiered in 1914, in a pink and yellow suit of lights proves hilarious.

Other acts are gently ushered off stage when they outstay their slot – as with Ignasi Búho (búho translates as owl), representing the Association of Noah’s Ark whose array of animal sounds knows no end. Cuban Singer Caridad Muntaner – a previous lover of Arturo’s testifies to his broad political affiliations as she belts out Celia Cruz’s “Life’s a Carnival” swinging across the stage in a lurid dress of blue sequins and matching plumes in her hair as the audience sway and sing along.

Interspersed with these musical numbers come reminiscences from his Moroccan chauffeur, Rashid, and elderly neighbour, Hermina – the latter contributing to the evening’s entertainment with a number on her tuba. Kinship is shown to come from friends as much as family. Indeed, Arturo is distinguished by an eclectic array of friendships and alliances – Fidel Castro, an Association for the Promotion of the interests of separated men as well as the Andorran Association of Transvestites. The latter provides the funeral’s closing number – a joyful celebration of difference. Act 2 – which takes place three days earlier – has Arturo’s biological family – an array of nephews, nieces and their respective children raiding his apartment for cash, jewellery and trophies. Inattentive to the dying Arturo or the visitors who come to pay their farewells – including singers Lupita Olivares and Caridad Muntaner whose musical numbers delighted in Act 1 — or to their relative’s 101st birthday, it is left to Rashid and Hermina to procure the celebratory cake. Keen to get their hands on Arturo’s estate, they even leak fake news of his death to news outlets, unable to take responsibility for their actions.

Act 3 sees a return to Act 1’s theatre, three hours after the end of the funeral, as Arturo’s will is read out. The audience as representatives of the associations are beneficiaries. Chief amongst them are   Ernesto and his guardians, Hermina and Rashid. The family, ignoring Arturo’s wishes in appearing clad in black, are left scrabbling for clues that might deliver a small part of his large estate. Running gags see Arturo’s ashes transferred to a shopping bag from Spain’s emblematic department store El Corte Ingles, and a search for the prized medal of St. Jordi (George) received from the Catalan government, taken as a memento by one of the theatre cleaners and then hastily disposed of into the lap of an audience member in the front row.

The production has changed since I first saw it in September 2018 (see https://thetheatretimes.com/la-cubana-has-a-hit-on-its-hands-farewell-arturo-on-tour-across-spain/ ). A couple of acts have been cut – the football fans and the friends of Haka Maori — and the new numbers serve to ground the production more firmly within the Catalan context and Arturo’s youth in Andorra.  The rhythm is sprightlier, the pacing in Act 2 more farcical and references to Covid – including La Cubana falling on hard times during the pandemic — speaks to the experiences of many in the performing arts who were unable to work when theatres closed during the lockdown. Spain’s Minster of Culture and Sport did not prioritize the arts in the first Covid lockdown (see Delgado, “Culture Matters”) with the €76m package of grants and loans seen as a welcome but limited response from the sector. Theatres did reopen in Spain earlier than in the UK and elsewhere in Europe but the limited audience capacity rendered it a precarious and risky option to create work for audiences.

La Cubana folds in aspects of this risk into a show that isn’t afraid to showcase the difficulties of putting on a show in this not quite post-Covid world, but what remains from what I first saw Adios Arturo in 2018 is the joy of being part of an event where you are not quite sure what will happen next and the audience members take the stage to deliver a speech or take part in a musical number. They appear as international dignitaries and representatives from the Associations attending the funeral in a production where, like almost all of La Cubana’s work, the fourth wall is consistently broken.

The musical numbers are performed by actor-dancers with an array of body shapes. This is anything but a one-size fits all theatre – rather difference is celebrated and on show. Cleaners and clerics share the stage; bullfighting aficionados are followed by a band celebrating anti-war sentiments. But the one constant is exuberance, a need to celebrate community and to bring what was a full theatre on the evening I saw the show together to think about what it means to share a space with others in this post(?)-Covid world. La Cubana celebrates the artificiality of theatre, the ability to transform, to become an-other, to create fictions where we can travel to an alternative space and encounter lives and experiences that allow us to better empathize with those who might not always represent our positions or priorities.

Els homes y les dies/The Men and the Days, adapted by Josep Maria Miró from the memoirs of David Vilaseca, directed by Xavier Albertí, Teatre Nacional de Catalunya

Rubén de Eguía as David in a white shirt and blue jeans in Els homes y les dies (The Men and the Days, at the TNC, 2022). Photo: David Ruano.

La Cubana celebrates the potentiality of theatre as a form of bringing people together – something that felt especially important in a world trying to navigate what post-Covid looks like. David Vilasesa interrogated what communality might mean, writing about solitude in its different shapes and forms. Perhaps to refer to David Vilaseca in the singular is problematic for there were many David Vilasecas. For those of us who knew David as an academic working on Hispanic and Catalan queer studies, he was a consummate professional. His academic papers were smart, well-argued, informative and sharp. There was always something provocative or unusual that you came away with after reading a piece by David or listening to his ideas unfold in a conference paper he had delivered. Els homes y les dies (The Men and the Days, 2017), premiering at the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (TNC) delivers a thoughtful adaptation of David Vilaseca’s posthumously published diaries, Els homes y les dies (The Men and the Days, 2017), adapted by Josep Maria Miró. These diaries, chronicling his daily activities since 1987 were found by his mother on his laptop after his sudden death – David was killed by a skip lorry while driving home on his bicycle soon after his 46th birthday in 2010 — provide many different perspectives on David from his own self-questioning, self-reflexive personal writings. At close to three hours, the play unfolds at something of a dreamlike pace, albeit largely chronologically, moving from his postgraduate studies at Bloomington Indiana in the US to his doctoral work at the Queen Mary University of London and his later academic positions in Southampton and then the Royal Holloway University of London that now holds an annual lecture in his honour.  But the academic work is just a small part of the fabric of the play. Miró’s adaptation focuses largely on the angst he experiences as lovers-cum-boyfriends come and go. With the American musician Josh, there is a lack of fidelity, Argentine Marcelo wants something that David can’t provide. One scene has lovers emerging from the closet of his bedroom in quick succession, and then sitting on the bed to look out at David – and the audience. It is an effective image for a life where love and desire don’t come together too frequently and where a sense of repetition – of an inability to move forward plagues David.

The piece is conceived by Miró and director Xavier Albertí as an elegy to a life lived to the full and then cut short far too soon.  The choice of Bach to underscore the piece gives it the tone of a lament for a lost life. Rubén de Eguía’s David begins the play at the grand piano, speaking of his death. The sense of looking back and looking out – much in the vein of both The Inheritance and Angels in America –  dominates the play’s texture. The staging, however, lacks the visual layers provided by Josep Maria Mestres’s production of Guillem Clua’s Justicia seen at the TNC in 2020 – another piece concerned with layered lives where the private and the public intersect in complex ways.

The characterization of David provided by de Eguía captures the uncertainty present in the writing, the need to analyze and visit throwaway remarks and actions that he reads as anything but inconsequential.  The thought of whether to return to Barcelona haunts him through the play. Exile proves less than satisfactory but Barcelona does not seem able to provide the contentment that always eludes him. While de Guía remains as David throughout – dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt as per one of the iconic photos of him that circulate in the public domain, the remaining cast of 10 take on many different roles – from his mother to his lovers, his close friend Mila to his father, from literary critic Jacqueline Rose to a psychoanalyst named Richard with whom he developed a friendship. The actors often sit out to watch David’s (mis)adventures – whether from a bed or the back of the stage but the rhythm of the production becomes overly static.  There are moments when someone or something rips through and disrupts the elegiac pace — but these as with Roberto G. Alonso’s personification of a configuration of Catalan drag queens in layers of red or a San Sebastián figure that emerges from below the stage in a cloud of smoke – don’t always serve to accelerate or shift the action to a different register.

I come away with a sense of the complexity of Vilaseca’s personality, with questions about the fictionalization that is part of the construction of these diaries, and the sense of David Vilaseca as an everyman of sorts. The David presented here articulates wider collective concerns around identity and sexuality, belonging, and what constitutes success or happiness. David repeatedly reflects on his own literary failures and in de Eguía’s performance becomes the site for the projection of the many entities that emerge through the characters’ interactions with him. For David becomes a construct realized through the writing as his own voice is shaped by interactions with Joe Orton, André Gide, and Josep Pla. The ghost of Terenci Moix is also very present in the brutal honesty with which desire (both acceptable and unacceptable) is narrated. David isn’t particularly concerned with niceties. Sex can be brutal and desire unreciprocated. Listening to Jacqueline Rose prompts a reflection on the need for greater intellectual sophistication in Catalan literary studies. Lack remains a dominant presence in the piece.

There are moments of telling beauty. Max Glaenzel’s stage design offers a set of shifting boxes that open to provide the spaces where episodes evolve. Sliding doors that speak of fleeting moments and closed opportunities. Here one moment, gone the next. David’s mother (played by Mercè Arànega) is at the door as she talks to him, the door closing on her at the end of a conversation that appears similarly closed off. The psychoanalyst’s sofa and a double bed are pertinent props where characters congregate to look out at David – a queer life under review. Els homes y les dies places a queer life centre stage – it isn’t always easy to watch and the largely static, one could say overly literary production doesn’t do justice to the intertextual layers of Miró’s nuanced adaptation but it does provide a different way of thinking through how the intersections of sexuality, nationalism and exile serve to construct a sense of self and other.

Lengua madre/Mother Tongue by Lola Arias, Teatre Lliure

Lengua madre (Mother Tongue) seen at the Teatro Valle-Inclán Madrid and the Teatre Lliure Barcelona. Photo: Miranda Barron.

Argentine writer-director Lola Arias presents her newest piece Lengua madre/Mother Tongue at Barcelona’s Teatre Lliure following its run at Madrid’s Centro Dramático Nacional in March and April of 2022. The set, designed by Mariana Tirantte is like a wooden cabinet of curiosities, a backlit museum of objects and artifacts from across the ages from which the props of the show are taken. A globe, a guitar, stuffed birds, a crucifix, a manikin, statues that celebrate classical (and problematic) ideas of beauty and femininity), books, a rack of clothes, and bottles. Above a screen where projected images provide a further layer for the narrative that Arias and her cast have constructed. This is a piece that Arias has labelled “an encyclopedia of reproduction in the twenty-first century” and it is written from the perspective of those who have navigated the complex legislation put in place to police reproduction where women often feel they have little control over their bodies. The cast of seven speak from their own lived experience – a distinctive feature of Arias’ work to date — and the production is constructed from their tales and encounters.  Motherhood for sale; motherhood as a form of control; motherhood and agency; motherhood and choice; motherhood and state policing. Motherhood that challenges what is viewed as normative. These are narratives that ask questions on the relationship between gender, sexuality, desire, capitalism, race and class in the twenty-first century while evading easy or reassuring answers. They provide public discursive visibility for questions that are often navigated in private domestic spaces.

Only two of the performers, Eva Higueras and Laura Ordás, are professional actors and their work is referenced in the production. Eva is a mother of three with a much older husband, also an actor, who gave birth to her first son, adopted her second from Burkina Faso and is fostering a third. Her two elder children speak to the audience from a previously recorded film discussing their relationship – this is more than just a production on motherhood as the brothers show how they forge community. Laura Ordás has no biological ticking clock and is not sure she wants to be a mother, having spent time doing everything possible not to get pregnant. At one point, after ten years on the pill, she comes to the realization that she resents being the one taking responsibility.

Ruben Castro is a transgender man who decides to stop his hormonal treatment to give birth to a child only to face opposition in being recognized legitimately as his son’s father. His story – as with many of those narrated – is one of triumph over adversity. Ruben charts the homophobic violence experienced and the fear of attack that curbed him from leaving his home in the final stages of pregnancy. Artist Paloma Calle had a child using an egg donated by her partner. Gynaecologist Pedro Fuentes once married, and then divorced, then had a child with his male partner through a surrogate mother in the USA. Cande Sanza identifies as non-binary, giving birth to her daughter Simone at the Vaciador de Carabanchel with twenty companions who had secured a bath for her to be able to have a water birth. This is the community in which Simone has grown up.

Community is an important part of the narrative. Ruben benefits from the support of his mother in bringing up Luar. Susana Cintado, a plumber, talks of having left for London in 1983 to have an abortion which was then illegal in Spain — abortion was partially legalized in 1985 with further legislation in 2010 providing abortion up to week 14 of pregnancy.  Susana had two further abortions and then subsequently had a child on her terms. Her narrative is one of agency, of the right to make decisions that impact her body and her life. Arias’ home country only legalized abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy in 2020; as I complete this review Roe vs. Wade has been overturned in the USA. The production may draw on stories and legislation rooted in a Spanish context but the policing of women’s bodies resonates far beyond.

Journalist and writer Silvia Nanclares wrote a book about her difficulties in conceiving. She was able to conceive through assisted reproduction and shared maternity – what in Spain is known as the ROPA method. Systems of assistance, however, are not available to all. Congolese migrant Besha Wear articulates the problems experienced by migrants who have no rights to free health. “For black women, Arab women and Latinx women, with no health card, we have no doctors no abortion or anything.” Paloma and Candela speak of the influence of a catholic education that they have had to deal with. Silvia and Paloma object to any sense of putting a price on pregnancy through the ‘rental’ of a uterus. Points of agreement are also balanced by points of difference.

To criticize a show which purposely structures itself through the lived experience of its performers as partial seems problematic. The Catholic viewpoint is present but evoked though the performers referring to family views that impacted on their upbringing or the legacy of Catholic education. Women who had to give children up for adoption may not be three to tell their stories but there is in Eva’s narrative of adaption and fostering that speaks of the silences in the show – we hear Eva’s story but not that of the mothers who made choices to or felt they had to give up their biological children. At a time when the right to abortion is being questioned in significant parts of the USA, Arias’s show is telling and pertinent. The different narrative headlines (as with Desire, Birth, Family, Reproductive Work, Future Mother) provide a journey through the key debates. Songs, like Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, performed acoustically, work with the projections – of religious mothers devotedly cradling (male) offspring, to provide a context for the opinions and values that shape the society in which these performers have lived and worked. A camera captures the performers from above. Projections of iconic images of motherhood and portraits of the performers in their younger selves comment and frame the narratives. The giant screen magnifies and augments the images. A balcony allows the performers to look at their former selves projected above or to look down at the actions evolving below. At times – as when they all sport long blond wigs – the audience is reminded of the forceful role that endorsed images of femininity play in shaping limited ideas of motherhood. The band – composed of four of performers on vocals, guitars and drums – provides a pulsating commentary on the action evolving below – cries of desperation, anger and a wish to take back the control that is sometimes denied to them by the systems of patriarchy.

Arias has described Lengua madre as a “mobile laboratory on motherhood” – its first iteration opened in Italy’s Teatro Arena del Sola Bologna in 2021 and the Spanish outings, which necessitated a two-month construction and rehearsal period, are followed by a new Berlin version currently in preparation. Lengua madre is almost a travelling roadshow that is shaped and reworked in each new location to reflect the temper of the times and the experiences of each and every performer. It reflects a moment in time but also captures the shifts and changes – both social and personal – that have shaped this moment. Arias makes performers of us all as we realize what our agency is and how we might exert it. Lengua madre is a show about women’s rights that is also able to question the very essentialism contained in the term woman. Not all will find it an easy watch but its candour, complexity, and theatricality merging the presentational with the conceptual, the allegorical and the literal, make it a fascinating journey through contemporary Spain as much as ideas around and the realities of reproduction.


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 of 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), 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 is currently Co-Investigator of an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project ‘Staging Difficult Pasts’. The research for this article is part of this project and was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number: AH/R006849/1]. In 2018 she was awarded the Fundació Ramon Llull’s prize for the promotion of Catalan culture, in recognition of her performance criticism of Catalan stage works.


European Stages, vol. 17, no. 1 (Fall 2022)

Editorial Board:

Marvin Carlson, Senior Editor, Founder
Krystyna Illakowicz, Co-Editor
Dominika Laster, Co-Editor
Kalina Stefanova, Co-Editor

Editorial Staff:

Asya Gorovits, Assistant Managing Editor
Zhixuan Zhu, Assistant Managing Editor

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. AVIGNON 76. A Festival of New Works by Philippa Wehle
  2. Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge in Portugal by Duncan Wheeler
  3. BRACK IMPERie. About “Hedda Gabler” by Vinge/Müller at Norske Teatret Oslo by Thomas Oberender
  4. Embodied Intimacy: The Immersive Performance of The Smile Off Your Face at Edinburgh by Julia Storch
  5. Fear, Love, and Despair – Radu Afrim: Director of Core Feelings by Alina Epîngeac
  6. Grec Festival de Barcelona, July 22 by Anton Pujol
  7. I Think of Curatorial Work in Scholarly Terms: An Interview with Ivan Medenica by Ognjen Obradović
  8. New Worlds Revealed in an Immigrant Journey, and an Unexpectedly Meaningful Universe Discovered and Destroyed Inside Styrofoam, at the Edinburgh Festival by Mark Dean
  9. Participation, Documentary and Adaptation: Barcelona Theatre May 2022 by Maria Delgado
  10. Report from Berlin, April 2022 by Marvin Carlson
  11. Report from Berlin (and Hamburg….) 5/2022 by Philip Wiles
  12. The Sibiu International Theatre Festival Transforms Dreams into Reality (The Magic of 2022 FITS in Short Superlative) by Ionica Pascanu
  13. Theatre in Denmark and The Faroe Islands – Spring 2022 by Steve Earnest
  14. The Polish Nation in a Never-Landing Aircraft by Katarzyna Biela
  15. The Piatra-Neamt Theatre Festival in Romania: 146 Kilometers from Heart to Heart by Cristina Modreanu
  16. Will’s Way at the Shakespeare International Festival Craiova 2022 by Alina Epîngeac

 

www.EuropeanStages.org

europeanstages@gc.cuny.edu

 

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center:

Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
©2022 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The Graduate Center CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York NY 10016

European Stages is a publication of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center ©2022

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