Halima Tahan Ferreyra *
Playwriting in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, is extensive and diverse. Due to the fact that multiplicity is its main characteristic, it is impossible to force it through a single channel; on the contrary, playwriting requires various ways of expression to become widespread. This diversity is in keeping with both the intensive and extensive theatre world of the city: orthodox and ground-breaking creators; big and small theatre companies; local and foreign, classic and modern playwrights; a wide range of “posts”; street artists, performers, and thousands of theatre students who look for a future in this profession. And they all coexist quite harmoniously.
The consolidated performing settings of Buenos Aires are evidenced by both the magnificent presence of the city’s iconic theatres, like the Colón and San Martín, and the surge of vibrant participation of private theatres and arts centers endowed with notable stages. These are coupled with hallmark entities such as the Argentine Playwrights’ Association[i] (Asociación Argentina de Autores) founded in 1910, the Actors’ Guild (Asociación Argentina de Actores), whose origin can be traced back to 1906, state-run institutes for the promotion of all fields of the trade, public and private drama schools, and training workshops. However, this brief mapping would be incomplete without including the vast array of small theaters scattered throughout the city. It is the troupes that perform in so-called “independent theatres” which confer its unique nature to the performing stages in Buenos Aires, where its most particular creative aspects come to surface. In fact, it is these “independent theatres” where the theatrical heart of the city beats.[ii]
These new drama scripts are generally produced in these “independent theaters.” Their authors present versatile profiles: in fact, some of them are not only authors but also actors and directors, which is quite a usual phenomenon in these regions. Others are film directors or musicians, and there are also those who are engaged in theatrical theories or novel writing. Consequently, there are experts in different disciplines which are reflected on their individual poetic proposals to different extents, as in the case of the playwrights discussed in the following article, “Womanhood and Manhood in the Universe of Argentine Young Playwrights” by Victoria Eandi: Romina Paula, Walter Jakob, and Agustín Mendilaharzu. Yet the novelty does not revolve around their profiles but around the fact that this phenomenon of playwrights in many different trades has probably become significantly widespread and, as a result, a sign of the times. We invite you to go over the works of these authors shown here, two of whom—Jakob and Mendilaharzu—write as a duo.
Womanhood and Manhood in the Universe of Argentine Young Playwrights
Victoria Eandi **
1. Romina Paula
Among the most original and lucid Argentine young theatre playwrights is certainly Romina Paula (Buenos Aires, 1979), who is also director of her own company El Silencio, as well as actress and novelist. Her trilogy of pieces Algo de ruido hace (2007), El tiempo todo entero (2010) and Fauna (2013)—all performed by her company—reflects her special sensitivity regarding female issues seen from a fresh and clever point of view. The issue of womanhood gets increasingly featured as the trilogy unfolds in time.
Algo de ruido hace (It’s a Little Bit Noisy) is loosely based upon Jorge Luis Borges’ La intrusa (The Inruder). Presented both locally and abroad (especially in Spain), it deals with the reunion of two weird brothers and Mariana, their cousin, after the death of the boys’ mother. Like in Borges’ story, even if they feel excited about the new guest, especially in a sexual sense, little by little she becomes an intruder who interferes in their brotherhood and destroys a weird “harmony” they have created to cope with their grief. The girl is the catalyzer, the one who comes to unveil the strange relationship between the brothers, to awaken in them sexual desire and to show them there is a whole world outside which they are staying away from.
El tiempo todo entero (The Entire Whole Time), which ran four seasons in Buenos Aires and performed in different European countries—most notably France—is based on Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, though, yet again, freely rewritten. Paula’s approach—taking distance from any preconceived conventions of how a classic should be handled—enables her to get closer to “a more penetrating and vivid expression of the essence of the play,” quoting some of Williams’ words in his production notes. In fact, it seems that she takes profit of what the play can give her to work with the issues she is interested in, instead of offering herself at the service of the original. It is worth underlining that there are no lines of his piece included in Paula’s version, even if it is present there the entire whole time. Indeed, one of the main topics of the version is the use of time with added stress on the girl´s perspective. In Williams’ play, Laura gives great time and importance to her glass menagerie, which is as fragile as her own self; just the same way, Antonia, the leading female character in Paula´s creation, spends a lot of time reading, internet surfing or just thinking. Contrary to the Western capitalistic perspectives, Antonia’s notion of time is that it is totally “unproductive,” and, indeed, her way of seeing everything makes conventional capitalistic lifestyles seem ridiculous and senseless. Laura’s connection with the world through her glass menagerie in William’s play has now turned into Antonia’s overt opposition to imposed patterns, and this attitude of hers extends to every other thing including the way she uses her whole time, her way of relating with her family and her way of falling in love.
Paula’s Fauna was performed in Argentina, and was scheduled to be performed in European cities, including Paris (Théâtre de la Bastille). The title of the play not only indicates its literal meaning—the animal kingdom—but is also the name of a female character evoked in the play. That character was inspired by Paula’s readings about, among others, two very strong women: María Luisa Bemberg and Concepción Arenal. Arenal was a nineteenth-century feminist writer who used to go out dressed as a man in order to sneak into circles of poets and attend university—the precincts only reserved to men. And indeed, Fauna is described as a woman who was cultured and savage at the same time, a sort of a mythical Amazon. In the play, she is a legend. She rode a horse even when she got old, and just like Arenal, she used to disguise as a man when young in order to accede to exclusively male intellectual circles, naming herself “Fauno” in her undercover self.
Fauna is a multi-layered play, underpinned by a constellation of references to and quotations from universal and local theatre classics including Roberto Arlt’s Saverio el cruel and Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño (in which a woman also dresses as a man to achieve her goals), inviting the audience to ponder on the nature of truth, falsity, reality and fiction, and life and world as a theatre. And Fauna, of course, is a play that dives deep into the female waters and gender issues. Julia, one of Fauna’s female characters, is an actress who, besides finding herself trapped in the “deception” implicit in her own profession, feels pressed and anguished when she wonders about what it really takes to make a woman feel “complete.”
As we move forward in Paula´s playwriting, we can see that her concerns about the nature of women deepen. In It’s a Little Bit Noisy, Mariana shows the typically feminine maturity and boldness, setting a clear contrast against the immaturity and naivety of men (a gap which gets wider because of the weirdness of the male characters). Then, in The Entire Whole Time, Antonia challenges the way women are supposed to use their time and relate with others. Finally, in Fauna, Julia, an actress, asks herself if it is necessary to carry a child in her womb to feel really fulfilled as a woman. But the originality of Paula lies in the fact that her reflections are delivered through the form of questions and not categorical statements. Moreover, her questions are embedded in theatrical metaphors, as one of Julia´s lines precisely shows: “How can I be an actress and work with my body and besides that, be a mother? What can I do to devote my body to more than one thing? How can I unfold myself?”
2. Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu
Also born in the seventies, Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu (Buenos Aires, 1975) are another example of the best of Argentine young theatre today. They both studied filmmaking as well as acting, but they are also playwrights and directors of their own plays. Together, they have written Los talentos (2010) and La edad de oro (2011), scheduled for many seasons on Buenos Aires stages, and for Latin American and European festivals. These pieces deal with specific issues related to the implications of growing out of adolescence and becoming an adult today, especially from the male perspective. Their plays trace the passage from one generation to the following one with the emphasis laid on the possibility, if any, of sticking to the same values as well as on the role of male friendship and camaraderie. What does it mean to grow up and be mature? Is there only one way of achieving it? What makes men attractive for women? Is it intelligence, good looks or being cool? Can they be authentic or do they have to pretend to be different from what they are? Is it necessary to give up passion or dreams to become an adult?
In Los talentos (The Talents), two twenty-year-old nerdish men, Ignacio and Lucas, live an isolated life ruled only by their self-set laws. They cultivate their talent and taste for poetry and act as if they were older than they really are. But their life suddenly collides with the outside world through a girl, who eventually comes to affect their intellectual routine and force them to wonder if what they have considered to be so precious and valuable is leading them to stay aloof, instead of being serviceable to certain needs and desires. At some point, they quote from the Archpriest of Hita’s Book of Good Love, which includes advice to men on how to conquer women, although their attempts turn out to be unfruitful for both Ignacio and Lucas in the practice. But they somehow—from a grandiloquence which is not devoid of tenderness and naïveté—prefer to remain idealistic and authentic, proudly holding on to their style, passions, tastes and personality, rather than change it to join the “herd of sheep.” Like the Buddhas of Bamiyan who are part of Lucas’ poem and who may
prepare themselves to die smiling with that beautiful smile they have …, they must not regret a single thing. They must look at the world with pride and say that, when they disappear, everything they saw, all that infinite richness, the memory of centuries and centuries, will disappear with them. And that way of looking at the world, so unique and beautiful, will be lost forever.
As for La edad de oro (The Golden Age), two men in their thirties, Víctor and Horacio, are about to start a new business. Both of them have been music lovers since their teens and absolute fans of Peter Hammill, the English singer-songwriter and founding member of the progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Víctor is a vinyl collector. He keeps discs he has amassed since his high school days and especially treasures his Hammill collection. But he feels forced to sell them to make money for his new business. The play also introduces a boy and a girl in their twenties, who are living in some way that golden age Víctor and Horacio are trying to leave behind against their will—an age when love is easily born just by sharing common interests, an age where one thinks dreams are not so difficult to accomplish.
If in Los talentos two brilliant nerdish boys—fans of poetry—think and behave as older people would do, in La edad de oro, two already grown-up men—fans of music, not so smart or cultured but able to present themselves as cool and experienced—try to grasp something from their previous decades, something that could be a synonym for happiness. And, indeed, through an unexpected situation, it will be the younger boy and the girl who bring back the hope and the eagerness of the past to the older ones. They make them realize that dreams are not a matter of age, but of spirit.
One of the assets of La edad de oro is how it gives a new and fresh focus to romanticism in every sense. It deals with what it means to grow up, to get older, to assume responsibilities, yet simultaneously posing this question: Do we have to leave our childhood or adolescent passions or enthusiasms behind, or can they remain as such even through the process of becoming an adult? And what about the legacies (in this case, musical tastes) which are passed from one generation to the following one?
The play also shows the “backstage” of the male conquest from a really tender perspective. Female readers may have a “peep hole” to get a glimpse of the ways men go through to flirt with and impress women. In this piece, as well as in Los talentos, the woman arrives to dismantle a crystallized system of relations between the characters.
Argentine theatre is multifaceted and the young playwrights discussed above are simply two examples out of the rich local stages. Besides, the perspective we have chosen is just one of the multiple levels which may be used to approach their plays. But it turns out to be really productive how eternal and universal issues such as womanhood and manhood in different generations are portrayed—in quite a characteristic way respectively—by Romina Paula on one hand, and Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu on the other. Their plays avoid any feminist or macho perspective. They just tell the stories they want to tell from their own idiosyncrasy. They do not intend to prove any preconceived thesis at all, but intriguing concepts of women and men emerge from their stories and their sources of inspiration, the dialogues, the characters and the atmospheres. And what can be discerned, more than anything, is the theatricality these texts show. Maybe because the playwrights are also directors of their own pieces, any idea about the essence of masculinity or womankind, or about any other subject, is expressed through dramatic means (not in the form of an essay or novel or poem) and, eventually, developed, enhanced and empowered on stage.
[i] The Argentine Playwrights’ Association (“Argentores”) is a group of playwrights, screenwriters, and authors of content for radio, TV and new technologies. It has 1,900 members and is affiliated to the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC).
[ii] Some 249 theatre troupes registered with the National Drama Institute of Argentina (INT)—147 in the city of Buenos Aires and 102 in the provinces—to request financial aid to fund their projects. The figures do not reflect the entire number of troupes but only those which are listed in the registry (Source: INT Buenos Aires Office, March 2015).
*Introduction: Halima Tahan, Ph. D. (Buenos Aires, Argentina), is a writer and critic. At present, she holds the position of director in Ediciones Artes del Sur. She is curator of the program “Rituals of Passage” in the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires. In Cordoba city, Argentina, where she graduated from the National University, she worked as a professor at the National University of Córdoba’s Art School. Her articles have been published in numerous books and magazines in her country and abroad. She has played as jury in national and foreign theatrical awards. She is member of the committee board of Critical Stages (AICT/IATC).
**Victoria Eandi (Buenos Aires, Argentina), has a Bachelor in Arts and has finished a Postgraduate Course in Performing Arts Management. She writes articles and essays for different theatre books and magazines, and she is a staff member as theatre critic at The Buenos Aires Herald. She works as editor at the Press Office of Teatro San Martín (Buenos Aires, Argentina).
Copyright © 2015 Halima Tahan and Victoria Eandi
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411
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