zondag 26 september 2010

federico garcia lorca - play without a title

Lorca's Dark Play For His Dark Times

MADRID, July 4 -- In late 1935 or early 1936, with the clouds of civil conflict already stationed threateningly over Spain, Federico García Lorca gave vent to his own pent-up anger, frustration and despair by starting work on a play that he intended to call ''The Dream of Life.''

Whether the play was ever completed may never be known. The Civil War erupted in July 1936 and one month later, when he was only 38 years old, Spain's greatest 20th-century poet and playwright was executed by fascist forces in Granada. In the chaos that followed, many of his papers were lost.

More than 30 years later, a document identified by experts as the first act of this play was found and eventually published as ''Comedia sin Titulo'' (''A Play Without a Name). But with Franco still in power and the wounds of the Civil War unhealed, it was never performed.

Now, with democracy at last restored to Spain, the 30-minute fragment has been put on for the first time in a production that has enabled theatergoers to admire both the timeless quality of Lorca's work and the talent of one of the country's best young directors, Lluis Pasqual.

It Seems to Be Complete

''One has to wonder what would follow because it stands up so well on its own,'' Mr. Pasqual said of the fragment. ''It is unfinished, yet it seems to be complete. Perhaps Lorca planned it as a trilogy. There are also some indications that the second act would take place in Heaven.''

The play is set in a theater during a rehearsal for Shakespeare's ''Midsummer Night's Dream'' that is disrupted by a skirmish between leftist and rightist forces warming up for the larger conflict that followed. But it is also disrupted by a character identified as the Author who turns against his audience.

Premonitions of civil war therefore run strongly through the play, yet Lorca seemed no less obsessed with denouncing the mediocrity of Spanish theater, the smugness of its audiences and even his own contribution to this state of affairs. Threatening to tear down the walls of the theater, his voice as the Author has never been clearer.

''Lorca is obviously angry with himself, too,'' Mr. Pasqual said. ''He's writing this at the same time as he is writing 'The House of Bernardo Alba,' which along with 'Blood Wedding' was one of his more conventional rural tragedies. 'Bernardo Alba' was probably the last play he wrote, but he was full of doubts at the time.''

Surrealism and New York

According to Ian Gibson, whose biography, ''Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life,'' is to be published in the United States this fall by Pantheon, ''A Play Without a Name'' reflects the Surrealist influence of the artist Salvador Dali and the film maker Luis Bunuel, whom the playwright met in the early 1930's.

''It also comes out of his experience in New York in 1929 and 1930 when, for the first time in his life, he traveled outside Spain,'' Mr. Gibson explained. ''It was then that he saw the provincialism of Spanish theater, but it wasn't ready for anything different. He wrote 'The Public' in 1930, but it was never performed in his lifetime. No one understood it.'' Today, with the Civil War gradually being reduced to a historical tragedy that need no longer divide Spaniards, Mr. Pasqual has sought to emphasize those aspects of ''A Play Without A Name'' that remain topical, above all Lorca's attack on theater where, in the Author's words, reigns ''a terrible air of lies.''

Sharing the playwright's objective of disturbing his audience, Mr. Pasqual has added about 30 minutes of a rehearsal of ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' to the beginning, not only to establish the characters who reappear in Lorca's play, but also to create the impression among his audience of an ordinary visit to the theater.

Late Doors and Odd Sounds

''I wanted to disorientate the audience,'' he explained. ''That's why we don't open the doors of the theater until the last minute so people already enter slightly irritated. Then there are lots of unexplained noises. We even switch off the air-conditioning halfway through. But I only use the words of Shakespeare and Lorca. I can't meddle with them.'' By the time the rehearsal gives way to the play, the lines between theater and reality are already blurred. With the theater's lights undimmed, actors placed within the audience then suddenly engage in debates and arguments with the Author, who is sitting at a director's table in the stalls.

At one point, the Author disappears mysteriously behind the stage for 17 seconds - long enough for the audience to start talking nervously, unknowingly participating in the play. During one performance, a woman in the audience shouted, ''They've gone and left us.'' In another, a woman even told one of the actors sitting beside her to stop interrupting.

As the Author and his actors, both on stage and in the audience, argue about truth in theater and life, the sound of gunfire and explosions abruptly introduces a Spain torn by real conflict. Then, as the fighting gets closer, the players assume political identities - a blue-shirted man climbs on stage and shoots a worker shouting revolutionary slogans in the audience - in a scene that seemed to proclaim the inevitability of civil war.

A Dusting for the Audience

The play - or the fragment - ends with the theater being destroyed by fire after being struck by a shell. And to reinforce Lorca's metaphor, Mr. Pasqual has chunks of plaster, curtains and wires tumbling dramatically onto the stage as the audience is covered in dust - in this case, at least, only talcum powder.

Mr. Pasqual's production has been hailed by Spanish critics, serving as an appropriate climax to his four years as director of the National Dramatic Center at the Maria Guerrero Theater here during which he also put on the first-ever performance of ''The Public'' and several other of Lorca's rarely seen late plays.

''I was born on June 5, the same day as Lorca,'' Mr. Pasqual noted. ''I'm also 38 years old, which he was when he died. In fact, I've been performing his plays around the same age as he wrote them. So, as you can see, Lorca has become something of an obsession. But now it's time for something different.''

[5 juli 1989 New York Times]