Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sí, que hubo mucha mierda

The plays went really well. There were maybe ten people in the audience for the dress rehearsal on Thursday night, which was a bit disappointing, but actually a nice way to ease into performing for real live people. At least our professor laughed at all the appropriate moments. Friday and Saturday night, though, we were completely sold out and had waiting lists of people trying to get in. The turnout completely exceeded anyone's expectations based on Spanish Department plays done in previous years. Friday night it was obvious that very few attendees spoke Spanish--it was a good five minutes and several jokes into the first play before anyone laughed. But then we got into some good physical humor and the audience started reacting. Saturday night, however, the audience was laughing from practically the first line, and that was certainly gratifying.

In the first play, "El retablo de las maravillas," I play Chanfalla, a conman who brings a "show of wonders" to a small town, explaining to the townspeople that in order to see the "marvelous marvels" of the show, they must not have any Jewish or Moorish blood (this was written at the height of the Spanish Inquisition) and they must be legitimate children of married parents. So when the show begins and no one sees these amazing things I'm telling them they should see, no one wants to admit that they see nothing, lest they be branded a convert or a bastard. Everything goes downhill, though, when an important military leader shows up demanding room and board for his soldiers, and when the townspeople realize he doesn't see the marvels, they determine that he's "one of them" and in the midst of their accusations he goes berserk and tries to kill everyone, barely letting me and my sidekick escape with our lives.

Here's a picture of me (in all my green-tights glory) with my sidekick, Chirinos:

And here's a closer shot with Chirinos and our grumpy musician, Rabelín:

During the second play, "El entremés famoso de los romances," which is either an inspiration for Don Quijote or a cheap knock-off, depending on when it was written, I go backstage to transform from Spanish con artist to Aztec royalty, ending up like this:

Not bad, eh? I think the Native American blood in my family (via my half-Indian half-sisters) shows in my very convincing portrayal of a sixteenth-century Mexican.

In the third play, "La loa para el auto sacramental de El divino narciso," an allegory written by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, I play el Occidente, who, together with his wife, la América, represents the native people of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquista. My wife and I are just chillin', having a good time with our rituals of human sacrifice, when in come el Celo (Zeal) and la Religión, who represent the Spanish military and Catholic missionaries, respectively. El Celo is ready to kill us all, but Religión convinces him to let us live so she can convert us, so after he comes in and scares us with his raping and pillaging and we basically have nothing left, she then gets to work showing us how our "Great God of the Seeds" is really the one true Christian God, even though we don't know it. After a bit of arguing and el Celo throwing his weight around, finally we come to see the light and agree to be baptized, rejoicing in the day we came to know the true God of the Seeds.

Here's me with my equally Aztec-looking wife, together with our conquerors (el Celo played by DISOBM/DINKWM):

I enjoyed playing both roles, but for different reasons. Chanfalla is just a fun character, and I had a good time being a showman and making people laugh. El Occidente, on the other hand, I enjoyed because he was a challenge, and the play itself much more difficult to pull off precisely because it wasn't funny. Sor Juana wrote "La loa" as a Mexican nun, very aware of the tensions between her faith and that of her ancestors, and although she shows respect for both, she is clearly a Catholic writing for Catholics. While she and her audience would naturally find a resolution in which the natives are converted to Christianity satisfying, the same could not be expected of my audience or of me.

Because of this, I had a hard time figuring out how to play el Occidente. At first I had this vision of him as your generic noble savage, because that's how it seemed Sor Juana was writing him. He was regal, strong, and above all serious. After a couple weeks of practice, though, we realized the play needed something else, so we decided to play up the slight traces of possible comedy--found mostly in the fact that el Occidente is terrified of el Celo and is basically a tool who does whatever the women tell him to. This helped me get into the character a bit more, but it didn't feel right. Particularly as a white American, I didn't feel good about portraying this symbol of all native Mexicans as a buffoon, and I realized I had crossed that line when one of the directors said a couple weeks ago, "Be careful--don't make el Occidente seem ridiculous. Try to think about what he must be feeling through all of this."

It wasn't until this past Wednesday evening--the night before the dress rehearsal--that I finally figured it out. Yes, el Occidente is terrified of el Celo, but he also has nothing left to lose, so he's not going to back down from a fight so easily. And yes, he listens at first to his wife and later to la Religión, but again not because he's weak but because he has nothing else to hold onto. His world has been pulled out from under him, his people murdered, and the god he trusted to protect him did nothing. Why not, then, listen to what this strange white lady has to say about her God? With this perspective, it was easy for me to show at the beginning of the play my faith in the God of the Seeds, in the middle my genuine rage for el Celo, and not quite so easy, though I hope I pulled it off, my belief in la Religión's words at the end. The trick was that, even though this resolution is in my mind a tragedy, it isn't in the eyes of my character.

I don't know how successful I was, but my professor said I almost had him to tears. So maybe I have some acting skills. At any rate, it's been an amazing experience.


Mr. Fob said...

P.S. Opening night was filmed, so as soon as I get a copy of the DVD I'll post clips.

Julie said...

Congrats! I miss the often miss the stage.

Mr. Fob said...

Thanks! I miss it already.

Angie said...

Congratulations Ben! It looks like it was a lot of fun. We look forward to being able to see the clips. You do make a very good indian- much more convincing than the guy with the drawn on mustache.

Mr. Fob said...

Apparently my costume is convincing--when I asked S-Boogie and Little Dude to point to Daddy in the picture of the four characters from the Loa, each of them pointed to el Celo.

The Big O said...

Haha! Those are silly pictures!

Mr. Fob said...


Mama said...

I'm thrilled it was so great for ya. If I understood Spanish, lived in the area, and had a babysitter, I'm sure I would have gone....provided I didn't have to scalp for tickets.

Looks like our bad poop wishes and your talents made for some outstanding performances. YAY


Weed said...

Fob, you really were amazingly good. I was very impressed. Who knew what the world was missing when you decided to go into library science instead of theater?

Good job.

Mr. Fob said...

Thank you, Mama, for your good wishes, and Mr. Weed, for your kind words.

TK said...

I wish I could have seen it. I always thought you should spend more time in drama. Hope you can follow up when you move, as you suggested.

Mr. Fob said...

Thanks, I hope I can too.