Onstage in France: Spanish Takes on Sex, Violence and Social Change | Modern Society of USA

Onstage in France: Spanish Takes on Sex, Violence and Social Change

Onstage in France: Spanish Takes on Sex, Violence and Social Change

The directors, Carlota Ferrer and José Manuel Mora, said in the playbill that the goal was to produce a “radical feminist discourse.” Some feminists would beg to differ: Gender swaps are increasingly common in theater, but they are generally intended to rectify the historical dominance of male-centric narratives, with women taking on roles intended for men.

Men taking over Lorca’s “drama of women,” as the play’s subtitle puts it, produces entirely different effects. Some in the cast, including José Luis Torrijo as the servant Poncia, brought a quiet dignity to their characters, but others generated unwitting comedy. With his muscular frame, Jaime Lorente often looked awkward in his green dress as the young, impulsive Adela, while Eusebio Poncela played the matriarch, Bernarda, like a Tony Soprano-style paterfamilias in a suit.

There is value in seeing men take on “unmanly” roles, but this particular swap undermined the play’s distinctive family dynamics. Ms. Ferrer and Mr. Mora tacked on a monologue about gender-based violence at the end, delivered by Mr. Lorente. Rather than a logical conclusion, however, it felt like a well-meaning statement of intent — earnest, but not quite earned.

Desire and repression also featured in two recent plays performed as part of a special afternoon dedicated to emerging playwrights. Sergio Martínez Vila’s “L’Obéissance de la Femme du Berger” (“The Obedience of the Shepherd’s Wife”) and María Velasco’s “Délivre-Toi de Mes Désirs” (“Break Free From My Desires”) offered up characters grappling with their sexual urges, sometimes graphically.

Both were performed in French in limited productions, specific to Reims Scènes d’Europe, designed to bring attention to the texts. “L’Obéissance” was both the more complete and the more frustrating. Its central female characters — a young student and an older woman who awaits the death of her husband — are intriguing and vividly drawn. The third character, however, is a proud pornographer who spends much of his stage time elaborating on violent sexual scenarios and either ignoring his infant daughter or threatening to sell her. The shock value is a cheap ploy, and the play’s three voices never quite coalesced.

Ms. Velasco’s “Délivre-Toi” tackles an interracial relationship, with another odd swap. The white heroine was played by a black actress, Mata Gabin, while the black hero was performed by a white man, Fabien Joubert. This only highlighted the play’s weaknesses: The couple’s dirty talk, which included “ethnic cleansing” and “you colonized me with your sperm,” was cringe-inducing, and failed to illuminate the complexity of the subject matter.

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