Yesterday, the actor opened Purgatorio, a theatrical work about two characters in the hereafter. And he spoke about forgiveness in the "here and now", "without conditions", including ETA.
Image Cristina Bejarano.
© La Razón.
Yesterday a play was presented which deals with the mutual forgiveness of two characters who commit terrible acts and meet each other in a non-existent place to reconcile with or destroy each other. A kind of "secular hereafter" where souls go before being reincarnated. But in speaking about the human condition, we ended up talking about a more earthly evil, that of ETA, Hitler, or Videla. And instead of talking about the weight of the story, it ended with an appeal for forgiveness. It was Viggo Mortensen, a leading character in Purgatorio, a play written by Ariel Dorfman which opens this week, who fired off the thought, "Everything can be forgiven: the Nazis, Videla, Franco, your parents or ETA." "It will never be wrong to forgive even the Devil himself," he maintained.
The fine shadings remained blurry; it probably wasn't even the actor's intention to get into the details of Spanish politics, but he did. "Forgiving with conditions is not forgiveness. You can't say, 'We forgive you, if...' You either do it or you don't," mused Mortensen, who later clarified, "You have to seek justice as well. It's essential, but you can also forgive at the same time. They are different things and there's no need to be ashamed." For the actor, born in the United States and raised in Argentina, "we see it very clearly with what's happening in Israel. Vengeance followed by vengeance. And everyone says that they want peace, but first... No, first nothing, it has to stop. And afterward one can talk about justice, about territory, everything that has to be discussed. Forgiveness has to be given and received." His only other cast member in the play, Carme Elías, was more succinct and reiterated, "For there to be forgiveness, it helps a great deal that justice be done." Even Dorfman interjected, "I absolutely condemn terrorism, but understanding where it comes from is part of the work. And I believe that it's very interesting that this play should premiere in Spain now. Forgiveness must be mutual and simultaneous, and that is the real process of reconciliation," added Dorfman.
But the course of the staging is another angle, and it has its basis in the intricate text that Ariel Dorfman has been polishing over the course of seven years, pursuing innumerable versions, from English to Spanish. "Now it's not even mine," he said yesterday in a joking tone. And to define the plot, he asked the journalists, "Ask yourselves if there is anything that has been done to you that you have never forgiven, and why. And ask yourselves how you face those who have hurt you and those you have hurt."
Victims and executioners
"Forgiveness and true compassion are difficult," claims Dorfman, who in this staging has sought to bring victim and executioner face to face "in the afterlife or in the dawn of conscience" to understand "how we move beyond that cycle of hatred and rivalry." "The play reveals a slow process of unmasking, of pulling aside, one by one, the veils that separate us from the truth," says this author, who, the opposite of Mortensen, was born in Argentina but raised in the United States. "It´s a question of renouncing what one was as the first step toward a profound recognition of the other."
Both the actors and the director, Josep María Mestres, agree on the difficulty of Dorfman's script, which is saved by the "naturalness" and "emotion" imprinted on it by the actors, who continue unveiling their miseries and "removing their armor" on the stage of the Teatro Español, according to Mestres.
"There's no way out, not from purgatory or the stage," affirms Mortensen, who avails himself of the famous Cortázar quote about the watch. "'When they give you a watch, they give you a little flowering hell.' This play is the same," points out the star of A Dangerous Method, who explained that the text is full of traps. "There are constant inexact repetitions that make you doubt whether what you just heard had already been said before. We thought about calling Ariel and asking him to eliminate some paragraphs, but no actor can do that. You have to face up to the process, even if it might be slippery, just like life. And the parts that were the most hateful are the ones that delight us now," pointed out the leading actor of the production.
The ridiculous and the sublime
About the text, Carme Elías pointed out that every time they both felt comfortable, "everything went to hell; it's just like life". Of the story of a man and a woman "badly wounding each other and searching for an exit from their purgatory," she has discovered many things but "all of them [are] slippery and dangerous." The Catalán actress also wanted to calm the fears of those who think they're going to see something gloomy and difficult. "There's no need to exaggerate, it's a play meant to be seen and enjoyed. It might frighten people because of the content, but there are amusing or outright funny moments. We human beings are ridiculous and sublime at the same time. The play is weighty, but it gives gifts to those who come to see it," she explained.
The plot evolves like some sort of thriller where you have to discover what attitude the characters will take: whether it will be pardon or punishment. "We are nervous because we have to do it on stage and get someone to come and see it," says Mortensen, laughing. After the production, the actor hasn´t got any professional plans. "Films? I don´t know whether I´ll continue in theatre or in life. Hopefully we´ll see each other tomorrow, che...!
Somehow the conversation went back to the beginning. The collective, true forgiveness of the executioners by the victims. But this time it was Dorfman who was to blame as he told how he had to exile himself from Chile, where he was living, escaping from Pinochet´s dictatorship. "I was living precariously in Paris when I received a Chilean magazine and I read in it that General Lee, one of the most bloodthirsty men in the military, was saying in an interview that what he loved most in the world was to listen to Beethoven´s string quartets. Back then I was full of rage and, to me, those pieces are the most sublime thing ever written in music. I was terribly angry. I threw the magazine to the floor. I couldn´t understand it. How could that guy like the same things I did?" said Dorfman, dramatizing it. "But afterwards I thought it was more interesting that way. That made him more human, it allowed me to see he would also have an end, like everybody else. And it made him more easy to understand."
The actor gets tangled up with ETA
The truth is that the subject was not in anybody´s plan, and it started with a reflection on individual forgiveness, but Mortensen got tangled up in the thorny subject of terrorism almost without wanting to. Talking about society, he went for it: "We are in Spain...ETA." That´s the way he started looking for an example, and what he did was some interesting reflection and then put his leg in several gardens without making much sense. "ETA says forgiveness, but that they must do this and the other. No. Either they are forgiven or they aren´t. Do we forgive the ETA people or don´t we?" he went on. "And they. Do they forgive those who, as they say, might have done something to them? The State, whatever. Or do they not forgive?" he said, rambling in excess. Then he tried to play the thing down and compared the subject of the terrorist group with the guilt an individual subject might carry: "You can always forgive. It can be something that your wife, your husband, your father did...it´s a huge subject, fathers," he added. Nobody seemed to get startled, the press conference went on in order and with the Spanish participants, Mestres and Elías, discreetly in the background. It´s better if each one does what they know how to do best.
Three partners for a dance
Purgatorio has already been staged in English. It was in 2008, in London. Since 2007 there has been a project to do it in Spanish in the Teatro Español, driven by Mortensen and Dorfman, with Ariadna Gil as stage partner. But a year later her replacement by Emma Suarez was announced. Then it was Mortensen who excused himself, and it finally will be done with Carme Elías. "As we say in Argentina, eso ya fue" [translators note: this is something that's already happened or that´s 'water under the bridge'], said the actor yesterday. "And I cannot imagine doing the play with any actress but Carme. I´ve learned a lot from your stage presence. Your natural manner gives me confidence," he stated. "I find peace in Viggo´s eyes. Confronted with the giddiness of the text, you can take risks with him, walk the tightrope," said Elías with complete knowingness.