Ramón del Valle-Inclán was a scraggly-bearded, one-armed, bohemian playwright from Spain, who penned sordid tales that were a slap in the face to bourgeois sentimentality. This weekend, Miami's International Hispanic Theatre Festival presents his play, Divinas Palabras. It's about a preyed-upon midget whose mother forces him to travel from carnival to carnival begging for money. And you thought you had it bad.
We sat down with the director, Ricardo Iniesta, who is as much a character as the hippie playwright. Iniesta was jailed by the Franco dictatorship for his critical theater pieces, he became a clandestine fighter, and he once reinterpreted the work of legendary (read: untouchable) Federico García Lorca using a cast of semi-illiterate gypsy women. We love him already. Below, he explains how the play will make you laugh at others' tragedies, the genius of Valle-Inclán, and why the play must be preformed in Spanish.
New Times: Ramón del Valle-Inclán seems to have a penchant for dark, disturbing characters in Divinas Palabras. What's up with that?
Ricardo Iniesta: He wanted the characters to be seen as wretched and
miserable when in reality they possess those parts that exist within
all of us human beings--those wretched and miserable parts--but taken
to the extreme to a sort of permanent grotesque.
And yet doesn't there seem to be an angle of twisted comedy that
underlies the work?
The genius of Valle Inclán is that he made tragedy that happened in a
scene, such as the death of a central character, result in comedy for
the spectator. The spectator witnesses their own laughter and is scandalized.
Why is the play being performed in Spanish with no English supertitles?
When people have tried to translate his work into other languages it's
been a disaster. It's impossible. For example, the language of [Federico
Garcia] Lorca is of air, of light. Air and light are elements that
travel. Air travels and clouds travel, and we can see them from one
country to the next. But the work of Valle Inclán is more of the Earth
and the Earth can't be moved. Mountains aren't moved. Forests aren't
moved. The deep and profound caves of fog of which Valle Inclán talks to
us don't move. This is why it's difficult to translate into other
So can people who aren't fluent in Spanish understand the play?
We've presented Divinas Palabras in countries where they don't
understand the language and it works perfectly because it's a
symphony of music, of images. It's damned as a slap in the face to the
bourgeoisie, but it also continues to be a slap in the face of theater
that is feeble and stale. Those who put on Valle Inclán know they are
entering difficult terrain that is at the same time very rich.
It's a terrain that you should be very familiar with. Your theater
company, Atalaya, puts on work with a focus on social justice. Do you
think theater is going to change the world?
It is true that we can't believe that any artist or creator can be the
protagonist for social change, but I do believe we can unite and in some
way create a grain of sand to paralyze the motors of injustice until
they are jammed. We can be influential [through our platform] in
demonstrating that it's important to create a better world, that another
world is possible than a world based on exploitation of each other and
getting benefits at the cost of the next person. In that way, I believe
that theater can attempt to change the conscience of some people.
If you weren't theatrically jamming the motors of injustice, what would
you be doing?
I'd probably be traveling the world until I burned through my savings.
Or living in the Pyrenees lost in some valley, or in Bolivia in the
Amazon. Something that isn't working in an office from 8 to 3 in
8 to 3? I need to move.
See Divinas Palabras at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing
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Arts (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami) this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday
at 5:00 p.m. Tickets cost $28.75 for adults and $23.75 for seniors and
students. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.
-- Gabriela Garcia