The Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother (La Cándida Eréndira)
Abandon all moral judgment and logic to enjoy this erotic fairy tale. A grandmother sells her young granddaughter for rape and sex trafficking. Welcome to the grotesque and mysterious world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez where evil becomes palatable through magical realism.
As directed by Jorge Alí Triana (and adapted with Carlos Jose Reyes) and now a premiere in Washington D.C., La Cándida Eréndira is about the exploitation of female children, based on a true event observed by Garcia Marquez, filtered through the lens of a fable.
Triana is a masterful director who pares down Gabo’s (Garcia Marquez’ nickname in Colombia) original horror story, into an exquisitely controlled, episodic play. Already recognized internationally as a prize-winning film collaborator with Gabo, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, Triana takes us head-on into a child sex-abuse story. Overall, this staging is a mature handling of a sensitive topic and stabs us to the heart with its wicked satire. The results are stunningly evocative, thought-provoking and powerful.
La Cándida is filled with fleeting but memorable theatrical images.The start is straight-forward. Fourteen-year-old, innocent Eréndira (a wide-eyed, delicately winsome Paola Baldion), sleep walks through her daily chores, spills soup and rotely deadpans, “Yes, grandmother,” to every maniacal demand from her wealthy, control-freak grannie dearest, (an empassioned Laura Garcia), who raps out orders to the sound of a ticking clock, even as she dozes in her throne-like, Bentwood rocking chair. The tyrannical staff-wielding Abuela (grandmother in Spanish) is played with warm, needling, ingratiating charm by Garcia, who establishes a towering presence as she peers out from under her tangled mess of grey hair and seductively sings with her Victor-Victrola, “Besame Mucho,” (Kiss Me Much) as she relives her rescue from a whorehouse as a young woman. The effect is perversely comic, and deliciously corrupt.
When Eréndira collapses into an exhausted sleep, the wind of misfortune topples the candle that incinerates the family mansion. The cataclysmic scene is cleverly staged with falling draperies and ersatz flames (lighting by Klyph Stanford), as a world falls apart and grandmother’s sanity cannot hold. Greedy to recoup her losses, Abuela sells Erendira to a line-up of sex-hungry men. Clearly this bedtime story is not for kids.
Triana and the GALA production team work seamlessly together. Eerie sounds chime in, such as bird calls, wind, and low drum rolls for suspense (sound design by David Crandall). When Abuela and Eréndira go on tour, scenic designer Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s sand-colored, revolving turntable wheels around to represent their quest for reparations in an inhospitable desert of barren solitude. The characters allegorically end up where they started as the wheel turns like fate. But what becomes touchingly grotesque is Erendira’s passive suffering and acceptance of her one million peso debt. Burdened by a heavy sense of filial duty, physically exhausted and aware of her destiny, she tells Abuela, “I’m dying.” So why doesn’t this abused teen rebel?
Gabo in his original story gives us glimpses of redemption as does Triana in this production. Quick-witted Ulises, a Wayuu Indian mestizo, (played by a sprightly Ignacio Meneses), is the prince charming who could have stepped out of Cinderella. One of Erendira’s customers, he falls deliriously in love with her and offers hope through rebellion.
A sublime love scene becomes a high point. Under a white diaphronous tent that replicates a sacred altar instead of her brothel, Eréndira is drawn to the innocence of Ulises whom she initiates into first-time sex. The scene is tenderly enacted by actors Baldión and Meneses and magically feels real. But Triana adds original music by German Arrieta, Song of Love-Love with lyrics that convey Gabo’s belief in the transforming power of human love. And musical director, Jose Arturo Chacon, who plays the Mailman, feeds in an enraptured, ethereal accompaniment by singing from the proscenium: “Whenever I fall in love/All thoughts of death escape me.” It’s just one of many breathtaking, memorable moments.
Another form of redemption arrives just before intermission when Eréndira is rescued by a band of wandering priests. And the world-weary youngster finds temporary spiritual ecstasy in a convent. After hearing sacred music, Eréndira speaks directly to us Brechtian-style from stage center:. “Yo soy feliz” or “I am happy,” meaning happy forever in Spanish; not a passing mood.
But mystifying questions puzzle us later on. When Eréndira has a chance at escape from sex slavery through an arranged marriage, she chooses prostitution with her heartless grandmother. Why? Is this a satiric stab at the institution of arranged marriages, in that prostitution offers a young woman more freedom? Prostitution is better than marriage?
No way. But I think Gabo and Triana want us to think about the magical events it takes to free Eréndira . (Just as in last season’s Lucido by Rafael Spregelburd, it takes a surreal space ship for the children to escape the chaos of a culture in decay.) In The Innocent Erendira, extraordinary things happen.
There are standout performancs that must be mentioned. Ballet dancer Alvaro Palau, who mimes the Angel and Spider Woman, is wrapped in shimmering silver lamé (costumes by Marcela Villanueva). Palau literally levitates off the stage floor as he contorts his body into Spider Woman in a carnival scene or assumes heroic statuesque poses as the Angel. You don’t know if he’s the Angel of Death or a protective guardian for Abuela. And Carlos Castillo in an ebullient cameo as the snake charmer urges us to shed our skins of superstition to live free.
Ultimately evil is fascinating. Triana follows the original except for the novella’s fade-out image of Abuela bleeding shiny green blood. It’s a repulsive detail embedded in the original novella and included in the play, but not seen in this staging. Maybe it’s too difficult to stage or Triana wanted to keep Abuela human rather than reduced to an insect. (I liked the horrific slime.)
Through Laura Garcia’s nuanced depiction, however, Abuela is three-dimensional, not a cartoon wicked witch or the personification of an idea. Egocentric to a sickening degree, her Abuela is also street-wise, scared and capable of driving off the hecklers and protecting Erendira with instinctive rage, like a lioness protecting her cub. This scene tugs at our hearts but we cannot excuse actions that indicate that the cycle of exploitation breeds exploitation, just as violence begets violence; and abuse, more abuse.
Gabo based this exaggerated folk tale on his observation of an 11-year-old child being prostituted by an old woman, possibly a relative, in a town square, according to the GALA Study Guide. The author as journalist distanced himself from the ugliness of this remembered incident, and transformed it into a dark but satisfying folk tale.
This stage adaptation of The Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother is rendered abstract enough with just the right balance of distancing so that we can reflect on what’s wrong in our world. Only what’s crazy makes sense. Yet, if modern life with its clash of cultures is so unpredictable, irrational, and absurd that the only explanation for it is supernatural; then redemptive love is possible too. And that’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ amazing world as revealed to us in Triana’s luminous and spell-binding production.
The Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother (La Cándida Eréndira )
Based on a novel by Nobel Prize Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Adapted by Jorge Ali Triana and Carlos Jose Reyes
Music by German Arrieta
Directed by Jorge Ali Triana
Produced by GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
In Spanish with English translation by Rene Buch and Felipe Gorostiza.
Highly Recommended for adult audiences. Nudity on stage.
Running Time: About 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.