Latin American drama

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audio Each Day Dies With Sleep

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Written by José Rivera, recent Academy Award Nominee for The Motorcycles Diaries, Each Day Dies with Sleep is the story of a young woman’s struggle to find an identity apart from the two men in her life – her father and her husband. Written in Rivera’s typical satiric and super realistic style, this fantastical tragic-comedy leaps from coast to coast, and from one outrageous moment to the next.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Laura Ceron, Noe Cuellar and Frankie Davila.

Featuring: Laura Ceron, Noe Cuellar, Frankie Davila

audio Santos & Santos

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Santos & Santos centers around a morally ambivalent Mexican-American law firm that subsidized its well-meaning political battles with drug money. A chain reaction of tragedy ensues when the youngest and well-meaning “good brother” betrays his older siblings.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Andrew Carrillo, Anthony Diaz-Perez, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Kristina Harrison, Sandra Marquez, Gustavo Mellado, Tony Ramos, Kristen Runfeldt, John C. Seda, Cecilia Suarez, Edward F. Torres, Fred Wellisch and Richard Wharton.

Featuring: Andrew Carrillo, Anthony Diaz-Perez, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Kristina Harrison, Sandra Marquez, Gustavo Mellado, Tony Ramos, Kristen Runfeldt, John C. Seda, Cecilia Suarez, Edward F. Torres, Fred Wellisch, Richard Wharton

Widows

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ariel Dorfman’s play Widows is about a political protest in a country ruled by a military junta. It was written in collaboration with playwright Tony Kushner (the author of Angels in America), and based on Dorfman’s 1983 novel of the same name. The play was first presented by the Traverse Theatre Company at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 5 March 1997. (An earlier version of the play was first performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in July 1991).

A brutal conflict has come to an end, with the ruling class victorious and the military in firm control. In a country village women await news of the dozens of men taken captive by the army, supposedly for being involved in the rebellion or for holding dissident views. But the only sign of the lost is a corpse that floats down the river one day. Decomposing and disfigured by torture, the faceless man is claimed by Sofia Fuentes, a grandmother who has lost a father, husband and two sons to the violence. A soldier in charge of keeping the peace in the area fears that if she is allowed to claim the body, uncomfortable questions will be raised about the man’s death. He burns it in secret. When the river gives up another body, it is claimed by all the widows of the town as a protest against the army’s refusal to answer questions about the whereabouts of their men.

The premiere at Cambridge Arts Theatre was directed by Ian Brown and designed by Mark Leese with a cast including Edith Maccarthur as Sofia Fuentes.

Latin America, or Spanish America if Portuguese–speaking Brazil is excluded, consists of some twenty different countries and is, in every sense, a continent of enormous fascination. Geographically, it enjoys a diversity which ranges from the great mountain chain of the Andes to the vast pampas of Argentina and the tropical jungles of the Amazon. The rich variety of its ancient native cultures may still be seen, not least in the ruins of Macchu Picchu, while the Spanish heritage of the ‘conquistadores’ is everywhere evident in the cathedrals, churches, and other buildings of its towns and cities. And in political terms, of course, Latin America has always been a place of huge ferment, ever associated in the foreign imagination with revolutions, military coups, and oppressive dictatorships. It is a context in which, not surprisingly, the arts have flourished. Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The War of the End of the World, are novels which have achieved worldwide fame, and it is hardly surprising that theatre, a form which so often reflects the social and political climate, should also have flourished in such a rich environment, though it has to be said that Latin American theatre has been a relatively late developer, slow to make its mark on the international stage...

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish ‘conquistadores’ in the sixteenth century, theatre in Latin America had taken the form of native ritualistic spectacles. Subsequently, under the influence of the new arrivals and the Catholic Church, a religious drama flourished, and then a more secular theatre which owed much to the traditions of seventeenth-century Spanish writers. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Latin American theatre continued to be largely influenced by European neoclassical and Romantic models, and it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that theatrical forms began to emerge which sought to express the continent’s vitality and independence. A huge influx of European immigrants into Argentina and Buenos Aires in particular inspired, for example, the so-called urban sainete, a theatrical form marked by its emphasis on local colour and realistic language. In addition, the early part of the century saw the emergence of plays in which rural life, embodied in the character of the gaucho, was seen to be threatened by increasing urbanisation. A vigorous drama began to develop in relation to issues which were specifically Latin American.

The end of the First World War in 1918 has as profound an effect in Latin American countries as elsewhere, not least with regard to the search for new forms of theatrical expression. Influenced by the Europrean avant-garde, new experimental groups began to appear, such as Teatro de Ulises in Mexico in 1928, and Teatro de la Cueva in Cuba, all of them rejecting outdated forms of theatre, developing new spaces, and seeking innovative styles of acting and design. Furthermore, if these new ideas were at first applied to the work of European dramatists in translation, it was not long before Latin American dramatists attempted to break away from that tradition. In Mexixo Efrén Orozoco Rosales wrote plays of a strongly nationalist character, of which Liberation (Liberación, 1929) is one example, while in Argentina, Roberto Arlt produced a body of work in the 1930s in which the mixture of reality and fantasy anticipates the theatre of later writers, not least Mario Vargas Llosa. During the same decade Puerto Rican travelling theatre groups performed a commedia dell’arte kind of theatre which focused on local issues and types, underlining the way in which there, as elsewhere, dramatists were beginning to be concerned with problems relevant to the Latin American experience.

Between 1940 and 1960 the trend described above acquired added impetus. 1941 saw the opening of the Cuban Academia de las Artes Dramáticas, and 1949 the inauguration in Havana of the Teatro Experimental, whose function it was to develop national playwrights. The same period witnessed the setting up of the Compañia Nacional de Comedias and the Escuela Nacional de Arte Escénica in Peru, and in Mexico the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. In the light of such developments, it was inevitable that new dramatists should emerge. In Mexico, Rodolfo Usigli, an admirer of European theatre and especially of George Bernard Shaw, wrote plays which satirised contemporary political life and revealed the tensions within middle-class families. The Argentinian dramatist, Osvaldo Dragún, exposed the corruption of the political system and was constantly concerned with the question of social injustice. In Cuba, Virgilio Piñero, an important influence on José Triana, employed black humour to expose the reality behind the façade of national happiness, and in Peru, Sebastián Salazar Bondy, experimenting in a variety of theatrical forms, achieved international status.

The most productive period in Latin American theatre has, however, been the last forty years. The 1960s and 70s saw political upheavals in many countries: in Cuba the revolution of 1959; in Argentina the military coup which initially overthrew Perón, and in 1976 the advent of another military dictatorship; in Chile the overthrow in 1973 of the left wing governmwent led by Salvador Allende and the beginning of the notorious military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Quite clearly, events of this kind were bound to stimulate theatrical activity in one way or another. The work of the Argentinian dramatist, Griselda Gambaro, revealed the violence that had and would characterise the various military regimes and led to her exile to Spain in 1976. Between 1960 and 1980 there emerged the New Theatre, initially championed in Colombia by Enrique Buenavenutura’s Teatro Experimental de Cali. Its purpose was to provide an alternative to bourgeois theatre, rejecting in the process the notion of an individual author, encouraging collective work in relation to all aspects of performance, and inviting audience participation. The devised play flourished in this environment and was enthusiastically taken up in other Latin American countries, notably in Cuba and in the work of the Brazilian and Nicaraguan dramatists, Augusto Boal and Alan Bolt. On the other hand, collective theatre has been criticised by many writers who consider that, precisely because of its emphasis on group participation and non-textual elements, it diminishes the importance of the spoken word and the individual dramatist.

Since the 1980s military dictatorships have, with the exception of Cuba, given way to largely democratic regimes, even though the Peruvian example of recent years suggests that old political habits die hard. This general shift of political emphasis has meant, in consequence, that the concerns of dramatists have moved from the political and the social to the personal, and that in many cases writers have become more interested in such matters as sexuality, gender and identity, and the power of the imagination.

For all the variety and richness of Latin American culture and history, theatre in this great continent has always had its problems. The commercial theatre exists even today only in the large cities such as Buenos Aires and Mexico City, and even there on a smaller scale than in London and other major European cities. Runs also tend to be short, which means that dramatists can earn more and be more secure either by writing for television or by moving to other countries.

from Gwynne Edwards, intro. and trans., The Methuen Book of Contemporary Latin American Plays (London, 2004).