The awarding of the country's National Prize for Theater to Milián in 2009 was not a hasty decision and did not come as a surprise. If the word indispensable seems a bit much to describe him, consider his 50 works and stagings, including memorable plays such as Vade retro; Esperando a Godot; Macbeth vino montado en burro; Juana de Belciel, más conocida por Madre Juana de los Ángeles; La toma de La Habana por los ingleses, and Si vas a comer espera por Virgilio, the latter considered a classic of Cuban contemporary theater.
The veteran playwright is now offering a seventh season of his Las mariposas saltan al vacío (Butterflies leap into a vacuum), another of his moving works which opened in 1994 at the Café Teatro Brecht, where it has again been well-received. Milián has made a few changes for this repeat performance, such as subtleties which make this a new version of the original, since some characters have even been eliminated.
He has always been a pioneer when it comes to taking controversial, and essential, issues to the stage. Precisely with Las mariposas… he introduced the issue of AIDS, setting the play in a sanatorium where heterosexual, homosexual and transsexual patients intermingle. The work does not limit itself to the illness, but goes much further, addressing friendship, human relations, love and becoming a parable about life and death.
With his particular style, Milián plays with time and space, foreshadowing the outcome while maintaining suspense as to what will finally happen with each character. As usual in his stagings, he resorts to jarring twists, reminding the spectator that this is, after all, just theater.
It is understood that the title's butterflies allude metaphorically to the leading character's transformation. If the issue of transexualism has been addressed often enough on Cuban stages and in film, spectators should rest assured that Milián does so in a truly poetic manner.
The play also has music to its credit, reaffirming that Milián's stagings can be expected to have striking characters, excellent sound design and fine-tuned lighting effects.
Las mariposas saltan al vacío has been taken to stages in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Colombia, and was much appreciated by audiences. Given its elegant approach to a universal issue, the play was included in Theater Studies coursework at Rutgers University, in the U.S. state of New Jersey.
José Milian addresses universal conflicts and does so deploying a gallery of Cuban characters, thanks to his unique formulas, his conceptual points of view, contemporary focus, use of language, extraordinary ability to structure a play, and creative genius.
Las mariposas saltan al vacío, in its seventh season, couldn't be more relevant.