Symptoms of a Brand New Theatre: A Conversation with Rogelio Orizondo

When I finish reading any play by Rogelio Orizondo (Villa Clara, 1983), a sort of null answer, of complete silence emerges in me. Orizondo, one of the most recent Cuban playwrights, already has a rich production that includes the publication of his play "La hijastra" (The Stepdaughter) in the volume Teatro cubano actual (Present Cuban Theater), by Ediciones Alarcos, and Vacas (Cows) winner of the David Award in 2007.

The playwright metabolizes the topic of dysfunction – in all its expressions: the body, family, individual relations, and so on – until achieving an unusual and desirable product. It is true that violence, euthanasia and grotesque are extremely dealt with, but not on the basis of absurd or caricature, but as signs of verisimilitude. Reading Orizondo is a self-destructive therapy; it is to believe that the electroshock of the text gives you access to misogyny, modern neurosis, homosexuality and all human "pathologies" or addictions. His theater, however, is unable of redeeming us. On the contrary, it leaves us perplexed and without the chance of escaping our prejudices or phobias.

To talk with Rogelio I attended one of the rehearsals of his project Attention Area, an alternative space.

Can you tell us what your next offers will be?

I will participate with three pieces at the 14th Havana International Theater Festival, but they are becoming less and less dramatic.

As an author, I will show I Didn't Kill Myself Yesterday because of You, Heiner Muller, directed by Mario Guerra. It is a version of Hamlet Mario used for the graduation of his students at ISA — they were my friends too – and to establish a rather daring link with today's Cuba. The play shows a generational position on filial, theater and political referents. Ghosts? Only shadows? The character of Ophelia becomes a whale to survive in the sea and Alegnis, the actress playing her, sings Amy Winehouse's Black to Black in the nude.

I also made the dramaturgy of the Fred Koenig's performance PUNTO PUNTO PUNTO Habana Nostalgia (DOT DOT DOT Havana Nostalgia). Koenig is an important French creator who wants to feel Havana from the point of view of the body, visual elements and music. I have enjoyed this work very much because of the team Mercedes Ruiz, Yordanka Ariosa, Abel Berenguer and I form to give life to Fred's idea. I still do not know what will exactly occur. Havana and nostalgia are very mysterious…

What authors inspire you or you consider predecessors of your writing? How have you appropriated their discourse?

I can name many, but I think there are three that really marked me: Anton Chekhov, Virginia Woolf and Sarah Kane.

Chekhov was a genius who, with only four plays, changed the history of theater, imposed new canons and, at the same time, subverted them. Perhaps that is why he is still unquestionably current. His plays have something mysterious, although not in their topic, but in their structure and language, which is still disconcerting. Whenever I fall into a writing crisis I read a piece of Three Sisters or The Cherry Ochard.

This is also the case with Virginia Woolf and Sanrah Kane. They are examples of my fanaticism for tormented life and language. They both had it.

Another of the authors that have influenced me the most is Almodovar. He is now in a trend I am not too much interested in, but I love his old films.

I cannot tell you how I appropriate discourses. I think this is unconscious, because that is the only way I can function. No matter how much you try, I don't think you can appropriate a style that does not show the cheek or stupidity defining you as a person. That is why the result will depend on the demon or the coward the artist carries within. I believe you always have to be faithful to yourself and try to be surprised; that you must learn the formulae without clinging to them; to go beyond, not to be easily satisfied, neither with concepts nor with fashions.

You can see Virginia Woolf's entire production and then compare Mrs. Dalloway with To the Lighthouse or with The Waves. Or you can put Sarah Kane's five plays on a table and devote yourself to their study. In her case, the time elapsed from Blasted to Psychosis 4:48 are not only five years of life, but five years of evolution of her poetics. I think that the key is for each person to find his or her need to create and then strive to satisfy it, over and above success or failure.

I have always been moved by Virgilio Pinera's position – who also perfected his poetics – towards the end of his life. When it was almost forbidden to mention his name and he was not published or staged, Pinera continued with his playwriting and held readings in gatherings with his friends. That was how he wrote Las escapatorias de Laura y Oscar (Laura's and Oscar's Flights) and El Trac, which I consider his best plays.

With what contemporary authors do you feel close?

I feel very close to Elfriede Jelinek. She writes materials and language for theater almost without representation clues. Her texts may be confused with essays and she gives total freedom to the stage creator. Hers are very political pieces which play with the cynicism of speeches and the arbitrary situation of contemporary world. I believe this is the best way to survive as a theater author. Nara Mansur did likewise. I feel even closer to her because she is Cuban and, besides, she was my teacher. The way Nara uses what is self-thematic through a very individual writing which is self-parody and self-dramatization without resorting to absurd and worn-out canons of drama has much to do with the way I approach writing and I hope stage too.

That is why I identify in the same way with some Spanish stage creators, like Angelica Liddell and Rodrigo Garcia. Both are authors/directors and, even when their view of theater may seem very contemporary, this has more to do with the raison d'être of theater from its very origins than with what misinterpretations of Aristotelian and bourgeois drama imposed later. I would like to participate in these types of theater, but in Cuba we are still too anchored in what is dramatic and in old ways of seeing things. That is why we must work and work, as Chekhov's characters say.

What dramatic play would you have liked to have written?

More than writing plays I would have liked to have lived the lives of some authors, because I don't find too interesting these times we are living. Shakespeare, Buchner, Chekhov and Luaces, for example, are some of those great authors whose lives I would like to have lived.

Vacas, La hijastra and Una obra inconclusa belong to your early production. How far do they stand apart or divert from the aesthetics of Este no es mi maletín (This Has Nothing to Do with Me) or Ayer dejé de matarme…?

Vacas, La hijastra and Una obra inconclusa were pieces I wrote when I was a student as the result of a very primary research process. I still am in a primary process, but I was much more in those times. The pieces I wrote then were deeply focused on the dramatic situation and the dialogue. If I wrote The End in the last page it was because I gave much importance to the fable, in spite of the fragmentary nature of the plays. When I wrote Ayer dejé de matarme gracias a ti, Heiner Müller, I had other concerns, but this was a text that was to be used for the graduation of three ISA performers and that Mario Guerra had to direct. That is why I was compelled to use old formulae, although I tried to dynamite them as much as I could. My personal problem became the conflict of the play and that is why there is a harmony with dialogue scenes. At the time I felt that the dramatic situation made me represent, recreate in a given way what was happening on the stage. I was against that, because I wanted to create material that really could be reordered in the mise-en-scène and the dialogue bumped into it too much because it was the product of that situation. Then, with entire freedom, I explored a different form of structure and use of the language in Este maletín no es mi maletín. Susy Cow, biografía política (Susy Cow, Political Biography) is a play I see like an archive of documents, Facebook chats and recorded voices.

You are part of a very controversial group that has endowed the Cuban theater panorama with a new dynamism. How does your poetics show the marks of the generation of Novísimos Dramaturgos (Newest Playwrights)? What relationship do you think they have with the Cuban theater tradition?

First: Los Novisimos is not a group. That is just hot air. They actually are young ISA playwrights who began to make a name with their plays in the theater. That's all. That was a moment when conditions were right, since there was a considerable number of playwrights in every the year of the career who, besides, had started to work. That is why the anthology was made.

These young artists received the name of "Novisimos" to differentiate them from the ones that came before. But we cannot say they are a group of that they have a similar poetics, because among them there are categorical differences in the way they conceive theater and playwriting. After the book came out this entire thing about the newest ones and their historical presentation emerged. These events gave rise to an argument and, also, made us take the position of accepting whether to be Novisimos or not.

For example, Yunior Garcia, who studied in my group, says he is not one of them. Also, the theater I do is different from Yunior's. Does this make me "Novisimo"? Perhaps as time goes by we may rethink this and see the result of our work. This is what is important. But I believe that our meetings in ISA and our practice of writing in the library -something those who were in a scholarship there did – together with debates or all things that are being said about the Novisimos may be seen as a generational spirit.

Many of the plays of this alleged group are full of allusions to other plays and other authors. Marien Fernandez, for example, has her friends as characters in La Furrumalla, while I have Marien as a character in Este maletín no es mi maletín. Another demonstration of this generational spirit could be to take part together in "theater" experiences which did not satisfy us or asking ourselves, once and again, the same questions: what was being played in the theaters, for whom, why, with what commitment, where written, where directed and acted…

These questions helped some of us to be increasingly radical and demonstrate it in our writing. Many names come to my mind, although not all of them are of playwrights. There are also critics, actors and designers. We did read those who came before us and studied the history of our theater, in part because we were in a university and we had to do it, but also because we were interested in it.

As our teacher Raquel Carrio says: you do not inherit tradition, you carry it in your blood. So, your question is very simple: my work is the child of Luaces, Virgilio, Sarduy and Nara, as also of Muller, Sarah Kane, Dea Loher and Angelica Liddell.

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