Rehearsals - October 2011
Image Andrés de Gabriel.
© Teatro Español.
Having the person who has hurt you most in your life at your mercy and being at the mercy of the person you have hurt the most, alternating torment in an endless cycle, elevates the Purgatorio in which Viggo Mortensen and Carmen Elías have been, successfully, imprisoned tonight in the world premiere of Ariel Dorfman's play.
This mirada oblicua* challenge, undertaken "poetically" at the Matadero del Español, was complicated by the difficulty of the text, a "flowering hell" halfway between a bolerazo** and Sartre, and by the vicissitudes suffered by the play since it was announced that it would open back in 2009, and which kept being postponed by various problems.
The actress who initially was going to star in it, Ariadna Gil, sitting between the author and the film director Agustín Díaz-Yanes, has been a privileged witness to "the tour de force" performance offered by Elías and Mortensen, the New Yorker raised in Buenos Aires, who occasionally failed to find "le mot juste."
The Aragorn of Lord of the Rings and Capitán Alatriste has managed to solve the omissions, we don't know if as a result of bilingualism or his own memory, with such stage presence, especially after the second scene, that it made it impossible to believe that 23 years have already passed since he set foot in a theatre.
But presence, presence, the presence of Elías (Barcelona 1951) who confronted the difficulty of a play in which a man and a woman can't stop seriously wounding themselves while they try to end their torture on terrain that, when it's not slippery, is dangerous.
With emotional power, the actress has managed to resolve the most difficult passage of the whole play, that of the memory of her children's murder, from which she must emerge "as a soul" and not as an executioner.
Mortensen (1958) and Elías, directed by Josep Mestres, fold and unfold time, on a set occupied only by a table, two chairs and a cot, to ask themselves over and over if forgiveness is possible and if love is capable of surviving any tragedy.
Dorfman doesn't want to be heterodox in his usage of purgatory, a place of expiation to which go only the souls of those who have not committed a mortal sin and although he does not put a name to his characters, he gives all of the clues [necessary] to know that they are mythological and that he is dealing with Jason, he of suicide and the golden fleece, and Medea, the "witch" and murderer of her children.
Dressed in contemporary clothing reminiscent of straitjackets, which alternates with the use of doctor's coats, the actors have acquitted themselves brilliantly in the "oldest institution there is," that is to say, in Dorfman's words, purgatory, the "middle ground" where bodies are husks waiting to leave that wrapping to be reincarnated.
For a long time, the Argentinian author had fantasized about the idea of a pair of characters in the afterlife, confronting and interrogating each other without knowing each other's identity and who, in addition, would live the tragedy of the conquered, of those who, by satisfying the other, end up betraying their own.
Diabolical and full of hiding places and traps for the actors, who have to repeat "in the other's skin," the text they just heard, but turning it completely around, the play goes on just like real life does, with the thought that, at any moment, this psychological thriller about forgiveness could slip through their hands.
The audience, among whom was the writer Javier Marías but not Emma Suárez, the actress who was to substitute for Gil a year ago, appreciated the effort and with their applause and "bravos" forced the actors, author, director and stage crew to come out and bow on several occasions .
* Translators' note: Mirada obliqua: literally, a sideways way of looking at something, often used in reference to literature, art, cinema, etc. to express a concept that includes looking at things in a different way and from other perspective. The writer José Saramago says, "The mirada oblicua is that which is crossed by error, doubt, and suspicion; it's that which puts into question what it is that one is looking at or which makes one think about the possibility of another response to the established response, to think that there are no definitive truths."
** Translators' note: bolerazo (also bolero): a form of melodic, slow-tempo Latin music, with a theme of love.