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Latin American Women Dramatists: Theater, Texts, and Theories
     

Latin American Women Dramatists: Theater, Texts, and Theories

by Catherine Larson (Editor), Margarita Vargas (Editor)
 

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"The book highlights the many possibilities of the innovative work of these dramatists, and this will, it is to be hoped, help the editors to achieve one of their other key goals: productions of the plays in English." —Times Literary Supplement

"This thoughtfully crafted book with its insightful and informative studies elucidates an overlooked, essential

Overview

"The book highlights the many possibilities of the innovative work of these dramatists, and this will, it is to be hoped, help the editors to achieve one of their other key goals: productions of the plays in English." —Times Literary Supplement

"This thoughtfully crafted book with its insightful and informative studies elucidates an overlooked, essential component of the Latin American literary canon." — Choice

Contributors discuss 15 works of Latin-American playwrights, delineate the artistic lives of women dramatists of the last half of the twentieth century—from countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela—and highlight the problems inherent in writing under politically repressive governments.

Editorial Reviews

Choice
Reflecting the burgeoning interest in Hispanic women writers, this volume focuses on a group of writers who have only recently been accorded the attention they so richly deserve. The editors organize the essays under four broad thematic headings: Theatrical Self—Consciousness, Politics, History, and Feminist Positions. Though playwrights included range from the recognized—such as Gámbaro (Gambaro) and Garro—to lesser—known yet nonetheless remarkable dramatists—e.g., Serebrisky—the volume would have profited from a broader geographic distribution: each chapter deals with one woman playwright, but 10 of the 15 come from either Mexico or Argentina. The editors concentrate on dramatists writing in the second half of the 20th century: the oldest author discussed was born in 1920, the youngest in 1960. All chapters follow an identical format: an introduction to the playwright... a description of her work in the theater... a more substantive analysis... of at least one specific text. This thoughtfully crafted book with its insightful and informative studies elucidates an overlooked, essential component of the Latin American literary canon. Recommended for courses supporting work at the upper—division undergraduate level and above.F. Colecchia, Duquesne University, Choice, November 1999

— F. Colecchia, Duquesne University

Choice - F. Colecchia

Reflecting the burgeoning interest in Hispanic women writers, this volume focuses on a group of writers who have only recently been accorded the attention they so richly deserve. The editors organize the essays under four broad thematic headings: Theatrical Self—Consciousness, Politics, History, and Feminist Positions. Though playwrights included range from the recognized—such as Gámbaro (Gambaro) and Garro—to lesser—known yet nonetheless remarkable dramatists—e.g., Serebrisky—the volume would have profited from a broader geographic distribution: each chapter deals with one woman playwright, but 10 of the 15 come from either Mexico or Argentina. The editors concentrate on dramatists writing in the second half of the 20th century: the oldest author discussed was born in 1920, the youngest in 1960. All chapters follow an identical format: an introduction to the playwright... a description of her work in the theater... a more substantive analysis... of at least one specific text. This thoughtfully crafted book with its insightful and informative studies elucidates an overlooked, essential component of the Latin American literary canon. Recommended for courses supporting work at the upper—division undergraduate level and above.F. Colecchia, Duquesne University, Choice, November 1999

From the Publisher
Reflecting the burgeoning interest in Hispanic women writers, this volume focuses on a group of writers who have only recently been accorded the attention they so richly deserve. The editors organize the essays under four broad thematic headings: Theatrical Self—Consciousness, Politics, History, and Feminist Positions. Though playwrights included range from the recognized—such as Gámbaro (Gambaro) and Garro—to lesser—known yet nonetheless remarkable dramatists—e.g., Serebrisky—the volume would have profited from a broader geographic distribution: each chapter deals with one woman playwright, but 10 of the 15 come from either Mexico or Argentina. The editors concentrate on dramatists writing in the second half of the 20th century: the oldest author discussed was born in 1920, the youngest in 1960. All chapters follow an identical format: an introduction to the playwright... a description of her work in the theater... a more substantive analysis... of at least one specific text. This thoughtfully crafted book with its insightful and informative studies elucidates an overlooked, essential component of the Latin American literary canon. Recommended for courses supporting work at the upper—division undergraduate level and above.F. Colecchia, Duquesne University, Choice, November 1999

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780253334619
Publisher:
Indiana University Press
Publication date:
01/01/1998
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Latin American Women Dramatists

Theater, Texts, and Theories


By Catherine Larson, Margarita Vargas

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1998 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-10905-7



CHAPTER 1

PART I: THEATRICAL SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS


Reenacting Politics

The Theater of Griselda Gámbaro

Becky Boling


"One lives in a politique, and in a politicized society; so necessarily, this will be reflected in the work of art, be that what it may," Griselda Gambaro has said, referring to her own work in the Argentine theater (Betsko and Koenig 186). One of the most prolific and well-known dramatists of contemporary Latin America, Griselda Gambaro has written for the stage since the 1960s. Producing through four decades, she has written under implicit and explicit censorship, in Argentina and abroad during self-imposed exile.

Gambaro was born in Buenos Aires on 28 July 1928, to first-generation Argentines of Italian descent. She was the youngest of five and the only girl. Her father worked for the post office. Although her family had no books, she frequented the public library, and began her literary career by writing narrative pieces which she later, on many occasions, turned into plays. Now she develops her themes either as novels or as plays. Currently she lives in Don Bosco, a suburb of Buenos Aires, with her husband, sculptor Juan Carlos Distéfano. She has two children: Andrea, born in 1961, and Lucas, born in 1965.

Gambaro began her literary career writing short stories and novellas. Madrigal en ciudad (1963) [Madrigal in the City], her first publication, won the Prize of the Argentine Fondo Nacional de las Artes for narrative in 1963. Two years later, the short story and novella collection El desatino (1965) [The Blunder] won the Premio Emecé. Gambaro's first attempts at theater emerged from her award-winning narrative collections. The play Las paredes (The Walls) was not produced until 1966, yet had earned national recognition when it received the Premio de la Asociación de Teatros and the Fondo Nacional de las Artes in 1964. Soon after, El desatino (the play version of the prose piece) won the Prize of the Revista Teatro XX in 1965, the same year as its production in the Sala del Centro de Experimentación Audiovisual del Instituto Torcuato Di Telia, a foundation formed to promote the fine arts. For quite some time, Gambaro worked together with other young artists at the foundation. Jorge Petraglia, noted Argentine director and actor, directed several of Gambaro's early works, including El desatino (in which he played the lead), Los siameses (written 1965, produced 1967) [The Siamese Twins] and Nada que ver (written 1970, produced 1972) [Out of It].

Gambaro's best-known play in the U.S. is El campo (written in 1967, produced in Buenos Aires in 1968) [The Camp, 1971]. It played in New York in 1983 at the Open Space under the direction of Francoise Kourilsky, and once again in Buenos Aires in 1984. The title refers simultaneously to a bucolic setting and to a concentration camp. Martin, the protagonist, gradually recognizes that instead of being treated as an accountant, he is a prisoner of the director, Franco. Allusions to fascism are obvious in the portrayal of Emma, the shaved prisoner who pretends to walk in high heel shoes and to play concerts for her jailors.

The Instituto Torcuato Di Telia closed in 1971, but Gambaro's career in the theater continued with a series of short theatrical pieces, many of which have not been staged, and full-length plays including Información para extranjeros (1973) [Information for Foreigners, 1992], a much-discussed play whose scenes were drawn from Argentine newspaper headlines and whose staging involves multiple rooms in a house and variable ordering of scenes.

Gambaro is considered one of the more established playwrights in Argentina, along with Roberto Cossa and Osvaldo Dragún. It was therefore significant that her work was absent from the public-subsidized theaters, La Comedia Nacional and Teatro Municipal San Martín, during the period of military rule known as the "guerra sucia" [Dirty War]. This was one of several signs that she had fallen under political suspicion. She explained the situation in an interview: "One started to be a suspected person. As a result, I couldn't open a play, I was not given interviews or publicity of any kind. My channels of communication were cut off. Aside from that, I was living in an atmosphere of terror" (Betsko and Koenig 190). Having lived under the threat of arrest for some time, Gambaro fled with her family to Spain in 1977 when President Rafael Videla banned her novel Ganarse la muerte (1976) [To Earn One's Death].

Because of the political climate and the informal prohibition of her plays during the "Proceso" or Dirty War the military waged against its own population, several of her plays written in the 70s would not be staged until the mid-1980s. Exceptions are Sucede lo que pasa (written 1975 and produced 1976) [What Happens Happens], at the Teatro Popular de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires) and a shorter piece, Sólo un aspecto (written 1971 and produced 1974 at the University of Buenos Aires) [Only One Aspect]. By the mid-1970s Gambaro had burned or disposed of her own copies of her plays, fearing a raid from the paramilitary. In an interview with Betsko and Koenig, Gambaro explains the climate of intellectual persecution which led to her departure from Argentina:

There were raids, the army paid us 'visits' during which they looked at all the material in the house [1973]. As any material was considered subversive — Marx, Freud — a great burning of books resulted. Everyone who owned books burned them. (187)


She refused to allow her political play Información para extranjeros to be staged in Germany because she feared the Argentine government would seek reprisals against family members still residing in the country.

Only after a three-year exile in Spain (Barcelona 1977-1980) did Gambaro return to her native country and begin to write for the stage again. By the 1980s, the military government had begun to weaken. In 1981, she joined Teatro Abierto, a group of playwrights, directors, and actors who presented twenty-one one-act plays, three plays a day for a week. The majority of these plays were political, a challenge to the repressive military government responsible for the disappearance of thou sands of Argentine civilians. Gambaro's contribution,Decir sí [Saying Yes], takes place in a barber shop. The barber ominously orders the client to clean the shop and give him a shave and haircut. Ignoring signs of sadism and aggression, the client tries to ingratiate himself with the barber. The play ends with the barber slitting the client's throat. Gambaro's one-act denounces the acquiescence to victimization and the inability or refusal to see the systematic violence that characterized the 1970s and early 1980s in Argentina.

After Decir sí, Gambaro continued experimenting with theatrical forms and testing the limits of political freedom in the newly established democracy. She employed farce and the fairy tale in Real envido (written 1980 and staged 1983) [Royal Gambit], a nineteenth-century scenario in La malasangre (written 1981 and staged 1983) [Bad Blood], and a Japanese setting in Del sol naciente (written and produced 1984) [From the Rising Sun]. In spite of the imaginary settings of these plays, they clearly comment on and question the political environment of the 1980s. Antígona furiosa (written to be staged by Laura Yusem in 1986) [Furious Antigone] combines Gambaro's insistence on the political with her interest in promoting access for women in theater. All her major themes and many of her theatrical strategies from other plays culminate in this meditation on citizenship, rights and responsibilities, and the distinctions between law, justice, power, and duty. Gambaro's plays of the 1960s and 1970s noticeably lack female characters (Las paredes and Los siameses) or offer only traditional generic roles for women (the mother and Lily in El desatino and Emma, quintessential victim, in El campo). In Gambaro's more recent plays, women not only show signs of individuation and strength, but they often occupy the central role. The clearest examples are Antígona in the play that bears her name, Maria in Morgan (written and staged in 1989), and Rita in Penas sin importancia (written and staged in 1990) [Pains of No Importance].

Yet, Gambaro says in one of her interviews, "I think one always writes about the same theme, with variations," (Betsko and Koenig 186). The theme running throughout her work, violence, has evolved from meditation on the arbitrary and irrational aspects of violence to deconstruction of specific political and patriarchal structures of power, of which both women and men are victims (see Taylor and Albuquerque). Her plays of the 1960s and 1970s often involve the relationship between victim and victimizer. Violence, in these plays, is arbitrary but inescapable, and her dramatic world is largely populated and ideologically determined by men. Later in Gambaro's career, she specifies more directly the causes of violence and places them within a concrete political setting; she also depicts more clearly and directly the role of women in her society as victims who rebel against violence.

Because of the irrationality of the violence portrayed in Gambaro's earlier plays and her rejection of a realistic mode of production, critics have often associated Gambaro with both the theater of the absurd and Artaud's theater of cruelty, and there are similarities in style and content (see Blanco Amores de Pagella, Holzapfel, Romano, Woodyard). In addition to the violence and the irrationality already mentioned, Gambaro's characters are types, often defined more by their role in society than by any individual psychology. The two most obvious roles in Gambaro's plays are those of the victim and the victimizer; however, these two roles are frequently exchanged in a seemingly arbitrary fashion among the characters. In Sólo un aspecto, for example, Titina and Javier, formerly the victims, turn the tables on Rolo. They tie him to a chair and threaten to burn and electrocute him. Although the physical violence they inflict on him is minimal, the threats and allusions to other forms of torture lead to Rolo's heart attack and death.

Another characteristic of Gambaro's theater during the 60s and 70s which is reminiscent of absurdist drama is the failure of language, the disjunction between objective reality and the language used to describe it. The victims often disregard the danger they see growing around them, or they convince themselves or allow others to convince them that they are safe. Language in these cases is often ironic or absurd. The victims are in an odd manner distanced from their own victimization, since the true nature of their relationship to the victimizers is never articulated. Gambaro's theater is also marked by an uncomfortable humor, a humor of situation and of language. In Las paredes, the youth notices that his room is getting smaller, the walls closing in on him. However, his jailors discount his fears and force him to enter into meaningless acts with them to divert his attention. In Los Siameses, Lorenzo professes love for Ignacio (either his carnal or spiritual Siamese twin), but his actions lead to Ignacio's death. Lorenzo refuses to let Ignacio in when someone assaults Ignacio outside the door. He also implicates him in a coup against the government and turns him over to two police officers who come to investigate. The Doctor in Puesta en claro (written 1974, staged 1986) [Made Clear], leaves Clara blind and forces her to come to his home and pretend to be his wife. She joins a number of other people (the grandfather and the children, for example) whom the Doctor has assembled and to whom he has given roles within this artificial family. In one scene, to settle a dispute with the grandfather over the weather, the Doctor pours a pitcher of water over Clara's head so that she will corroborate his insistence that it is raining. The language of affection — kisses, terms of courtesy, family — are resemanticized as the language of domination and violence. The title of the latter play itself reflects the ambiguity and failure of language: "puesta en claro" means "made clear," yet Clara (the allusion in her name is also obvious) cannot see and is actually supposed to ignore what she might perceive. Nothing is as the Doctor says it is. In Gambaro's theater, the failure of language is one aspect of the irrationality of violence. Violence is not a metaphor for the lack of meaning in contemporary society; absurdity is simply an aspect of the technology of violence perpetrated against the Argentine nation.

Although Gambaro may suggest that violence is innate to the human condition, as seems to be the implication of the reworking of the Cain-and-Abel motif in Los Siameses, she believes in the possibility of constructing a just and rational society. Unwilling to accept the basic tenets of absurdism, Gambaro rejects being characterized as an absurdist dramatist. According to the playwright, her plays arise from the tradition of the grotesco criollo [native grotesque] as practiced by the Argentine dramatist Armando Discépolo in the 1920s and 1930s. Osvaldo Pellettieri describes many aspects of the grotesco criollo — the combination of the comic and the pathetic, the inability of characters to know themselves, the lack of resolution of the dilemma (100) — which characterize Gambaro's theater as well. These are elements she includes in her examination and critique of Argentine society: "Our theater is much more connected with a social element, and our plays deal directly with political and social content. We also believe that society is modifiable, changeable" (Betsko and Koenig 195). Consequently, Gambaro often implicates her victims in their own persecution; her dramas intend to make the audience see what it has become deadened to (Gambaro, "La difícil perfección" 31) so that they might take action. Whether on the level of social and gender commentary, as in El despojamiento (1974) [The Striptease], where the aging actress humiliates herself by stripping in a waiting room, or on the level of the political, as in Decir sí, where a victim participates in his own destruction, Gambaro's plays denounce a specific social and/or political situation and demand that her public become aware of the violence that underlies the everyday (see Villegas). Gambaro's early plays of the 1960s and 1970s portray the irrationality of this period in Argentine history during which the country experienced spasmodic changes in leadership. Throughout this period of production, Gambaro concentrates on describing the dynamics of oppression, the strategies of power, and the irrationality of domination as she witnessed them in practice in Argentina.

Even though her plays of the earlier period almost invariably end with the humiliation, torture, and/or death of the main character(s), Gambaro protests that each one "has a positive side because it appeals to people's lucidity. It's a call to attention. My vision is not necessarily fatalistic" (Betsko and Koenig 191). This optimism is more easily found in her plays of the 1980s to the present. In this period, Gambaro confronts most directly the political situation of the Dirty War and its aftermath in Argentina, and her characters often escape complicity in their own destruction (see Brown and Nunca Más).

In part, the optimistic tone of this later work is due to the clear distinction between victim and victimizer and the exoneration of the victim. Morgan is a good example of the bifurcation of victim and accomplice into separate characters, which allows for some measure of victory on the part of the oppressed. Morgan and his pirates occupy a town and promise they will leave if and when the town gives them what they want. The Mayor attempts to ameliorate the violence by placating Morgan; Maria, in contrast, recognizes that Morgan's demands are insatiable and that the Mayor is simply facilitating the continued oppression by his blindness to the cruelty of Morgan and his men. Maria's heroism marks a break with the past. Even though in an earlier play, Puesta en claro, Clara poisons her pretend husband with a meat pie before he can consummate the marriage, the murder is a reaction to a series of abuses that she has humbly accepted. But in Morgan Maria's rebellion is a refusal to accept the role of victim. Unlike so many of the victims in Gambaro's previous work, she never allows the victimizer to persuade her that her predicament is justified or normal. She clearly separates herself from the practices of domination in play around her.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Latin American Women Dramatists by Catherine Larson, Margarita Vargas. Copyright © 1998 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Catherine Larson is an Associate professor of Spanish and Adjunct Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is the author of Language and the Comedia: Theory and Practice and numerous articles on the theater of Golden Age Spain and twentieth-century Latin America, and she has co-edited Brave New Words: Studies in Spanish Golden Age Literature.
Margarita Vargas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is the co-translator of The House on the Beach and co-editor of Women Writing Women: An Anthology of Spanish-American Theater of the 1980s. She has also published critical essays on Mexican literature and Spanish-American theater.

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