A play composed of interludes? In pursuit of tracking down what I suspected would be an interesting story about GALA Hispanic Theatre’s world premiere of Cabaret Barroco: Interludes of Spain’s Golden Age, I sit across a table from the director, José Luis Arellano García, from Madrid, Spain. Right away, there is rapport. He tells me he started studying to be a director at age 22, after briefly working as an actor. He has studied in Madrid, London, England; Paris, put in a few months with method acting in Los Angeles (Hollywood), in the United States. His enthusiasm for theatre directing though is infectious. He can chalk up impressive directing credits from Spain and Europe, and as the director of the Drama School of the City of Parla, Madrid, Spain. He is passionately committed to the Spanish classics, the plays, the Baroque, and the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre.
Rosalind: One of the most memorable theatrical moments I’ve experienced at the GALA Theatre occurred in the darkest moment near the end of Lope de Vega’s El Caballero de Olmedo (The Knight from Olmedo), that you directed in 2010. Evil was in ascendancy. The good knight, Alonso, who embodied the code of honor, had been murdered in the dark wood by this vile person. All hope is dead. Yet, in the next moment, stark-white light floods the stage on the captured villain lying head-down on a bench. Suddenly an upended bench whacks face-down, like a heavy guillotine blade and slaps the stage. No blood and gore, but I jumped. I felt I had been shot. In a flashing moment, I thought I understood. The King executed the villain and restored justice and balance with a bang. That stage direction wasn’t written by the author. That was you. It was thrilling. Would you say that this physicality, this theatricality that reinforces the text, is a mark of your directing style?
Arellano Garcia: Thank you for understanding…..You can focus the plays differently (with direction). I normally start with the characters and the actors– to get into the play. I tell them: we need to open the door to this place and understand physically these characters. The classics are different. The characters move as if they don’t have psychology (motivation). They have instincts, like animals, and move with instinct. They have really strong feelings and they love, hate, kill. So Cabaret Barroco, as in El Caballero, is very physical. For me, what is important in Cabaret Barroco, is joy. An interlude is part of a fiesta, a fun thing, filled with life that is part of the Theatre of the Baroque. Not the archeological feeling (that you get from a book). But the feeling of the Baroque. I want to communicate that Spaniard thing to the 21st century American audience. We live and love because we die very soon.
Rosalind: So live today; tomorrow we die. Carpe diem?
Arellano Garcia: Yeah, carpe diem. (big smile). Enjoy today. To me, the six authors we picked show the theme of love, written by the most important five or six authors of Baroque interludes. Francisco Bernardo de Quirós is really important. Jerónimo de Cáncer, Francisco de Quevedo, Agustín Moreto, and Calderón de la Barca (author of Life is a Dream (la vie es sueño). Luis Quiñones de Benavente, another author, wrote 500 interludes, for instance, which are still popular in Spain today.
Rosalind: Except for Moreto (author of last season’s In Spite of Love), and Calderón, (Life Is a Dream), these names are unknown. But you must be doing something right; you are popular here. You are appreciated in that you’ve been invited back to the GALA Hispanic Theatre three times. Cabaret Barroco, a world premiere in 2013, is the third main stage production you will have directed for GALA, since ¡Ay! Carmela, in 2011, by José Sanchis-Sinisterra; El caballero de Olmedo, in 2010; and Fuente Ovejuna (The Sheep Fountain), in 2009, both masterpiece gems, by Lope de Vega. The latter at the Lansburgh and GALA Tivoli Theatres in April 2009, was part of the Loving Lope Festival. Then again in 2011, you directed an excellent adaptation of Cervantes’ Numancia, that was staged for school students at GALA Hispanic Theatre.
But on to this premiere. What exactly are Baroque Interludes (entreméses)? It’s a new genre for many in our Washington D.C. audience.
Arellano Garcia: The Interludes in Spain were the small pieces performed for the common people between the acts of the big classics during big festivals in the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, from 1580 to1700.
Rosalind: So we have to put ourselves in the 17th century. Interludes had a lot to do with the way plays were performed. First they were highly exaggerated, grotesque satires, performed with large gestures. When they were brought inside the open courtyards, the actors kept the style to hold the attention of us common folks? Is that accurate?
Arellano Garcia: Yes, theatres were called the corrales. Large rectangular courtyards in which a large platform stage, with a projecting apron, was built at one end. (Somewhat like the Elizabethan stage in Shakespeare’s day.)
Rosalind: But the structure and style were totally different from Shakespeare’s plays.
Arellano Garcia: Yes, somewhat. At the beginning of these fiestas, the entire company danced in a Loa or a prologue. With music. It was the way to say “hello” to the people. Then the plays would start. At the breaks before acts, performers presented an interlude.
Rosalind: A serious, classical play and two interludes? That’s a long day.
Arellano Garcia : The entire show would start in the afternoon and go on into evening. Here at the Tivoli, we are not doing the serious classic. Only showing you the interludes.
Rosalind: Based on what I’ve read so far in the script, the interludes were comic relief, outrageous satires, often bawdy, poking fun at the big plays?.
Arellano Garcia: Yes. For instance, Lope de Vega in Caballero de Olmedo, has his heroic characters speaking about epic love. But the interludes showed everyday, human love.
Arellano Garcia : Yes.
Rosalind: That makes sense in the context of The Knight from Olmedo. When the romantic hero speaks, it’s very imagistic, lofty– poetic. For example: Alonso near the end of the play has a dream about the hawk swooping on his prey, the Goldfinch, as an allegory and warning for the vicious attack on pure, passionate love in the play. It’s rich, gorgeous language. But real people don’t talk that way. Only in dreams or our imaginations.
Arellano Garcia : Exactly. But in the interludes, the author writes about love between the common people, speaking ordinary language. The Baroque fiestas were organized this way because the peasants really came to see the interludes, not big plays.
Rosalind: That’s amazing. But the audience stayed through the serious epic plays, didn’t they? They listened and heard the soaring poetic language?
Arellano Garcia: Oh yes. But the interludes brought the epic stories closer to the people’s lives.
Rosalind: So that’s what you mean by topsy-turvy, turning the world upside down. And the aristocrats would be sitting on the balconies over the open courtyards, the corrales?
Arellano Garcia: Yes. The performances started at 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon and went on into the night. Sometimes, until midnight. Candles or torches lit the stage. And the people lived in the corrales for hours. They ate, made love, gossiped, fights broke out. The audience used to get up, walk out and come back. This is why there is so much repetition in Lope de Vega and Calderón, and Cervantes. The authors had to repeat what is happening in the plot, because the audience was, going in and out, distracted. And that’s why in Spain today, we have to make an adaptation, to cut out the repetition.
Rosalind: Okay. Here in Cabaret Barocco, you’re examining love from different points of view and presenting four or five interludes by six Spanish Golden Age authors. The interlude title and the author is announced before each one during this production.
Arellano Garcia: Yes. It’s important to show the American audience different Spanish authors.
Rosalind: In my research on baroque entremeses, I ran across the name Miguel Cervantes a lot. You are not including his interludes in this cabaret. Why?
Arellano Garcia: No, no. For two reasons really. One, the GALA did it before in 2003. I don’t think it would be interesting to do Cervantes’ Interludes again. Second, Cervantes wrote in prose. And I prefer the rhythmical verse– to use authors who wrote in verse, as Calderón and these others did. I didn’t want prose in the play. I wanted a rhythmical play. We start with the pulse of the heart. (He snaps his fingers as he’s speaking.) Pa-Pum, pa-pum, the pulse. We start with this sound. The first thing the audience hears is the rhythm of the heart. (He claps the rhythm.)
Rosalind: Plays of the heart. Themes of Love.
Arellano Garcia: Yes. But here at the GALA, it’s the format that’s important. The Baroque Fiesta starts with the Loa that serves as the prologue. You start with that heart beat and the music. Then the interludes in two acts. Followed by the Mojiganga, the epilogue.
Rosalind: How do you examine the idea of Love?
Arellano Garcia: The idea is in the Heart Beat at the beginning as you sit in the Tivoli Theatre. In the Baroque Theatre period, they used to say: Theatre is like life; and life is like the theatre. Life is a dream, (La vida es sueño), the title of one of Calderón’s great plays. Now, we are trying to put the theatre of life on stage. In each act, you have at least two interludes, these small pieces, examining “The Pain of Love.” The interludes are joined by songs, with poetry, to make something joyful. The important thing here is to make people feel joyful. So that you say, “Oh, I want to love. I want to fall in love. Oh, it’s painful, yet I want to make love.” Through the words of Calderon, and all these other Renaissance authors. .
Rosalind: Which is amazing. Because you’re mashing all these writers together. Okay, then you have a song at the end: “Whoever wants to enjoy this world/come now and take and pay.” It probably sounds more lyrical in the Spanish. It’s like a refrain, a reprise that ties the interludes together. So then, what is this Mojiganga?
Arellano Garcia : The epilogue or last dance. The Mojiganga is a song and dance at the end of the play to say good-bye. In a baroque theatre festival, dancing and music are always important. The cast always dances to say good-bye.
Rosalind: What do you want us to take from this theatrical experience?
Arellano Garcia: To see how the Baroque works in the Hispanic Theatre. To experience two hours of life, the joy of life in the Baroque Theatre. For me, this is the most personal play that I’ve done here because it deals with love. I understand love in Theatre. Love in life. For me, it is really amazing how these authors explain the differences of love.
Rosalind: You remind me of an interview with the famous Broadway American actress, Julie Harris, whom we lost recently this summer. She was asked when she was depressed, did she go to Church? No, she said, I go to the theatre.
Arellano Garcia: I understand .That ‘s true for me too. When depressed, I need to make theater. Inside the theater. There, I feel life. I need to do it.
Rosalind: Why should our audience come to see Cabaret Barroco?
Arellano Garcia: To feel the energy of love. The happiness, the dreams and feelings of the people. I want to show the American audience the typical authors of the classical theatre who made fun of the sublime poetic style of Lope de Vega, full of classical allusions. Other Renaissance writers wrote really important satires as well.
Rosalind: The Loving Lope Festival here in 2009, launched by Michael Kahn from the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Hugo and Rebecca Medrano from GALA, shared performances of Lope de Vega. It was like bridging a huge cultural gap, a misunderstanding. Scholars call Lope de Vega the Spanish Shakespeare. Wrong, Lope de Vega is Lope de Vega. Why don’t they call Shakespeare the English Lope de Vega?
Arellano Garcia: I’m with you there. Lope de Vega is not a Spanish Shakespeare. Lope de Vega is Lope de Vega. Shakespeare is great and amazing; but he is Shakespeare. And Calderon is Calderon, who is the author of one of the interludes, El Toreador. Picaresque Characters: a rogue, scoundrel, rascal
Rosalind: In speaking about several of the interludes so far, the phrase “picaresque characters” has come up. Talk about some of the picaros/picaras, the rogues, scoundrels, rascals we meet in Cabaret Barroco. They’re fascinating. Much more than stereotypes.
Arellano Garcia: Yes, they are. These characters move with their stomachs, the instincts of a beast, or with an open heart.
Rosalind: Let’s start with the Gracioso, or the Fool, who appears in the Moreto piece, Doña Esquina. I remember from my background in English literature, the miracle and morality plays, some enacted on the cathedral steps, had allegorical characters, like Everyman and Death, Good-Deeds, Wisdom, and lots of devils pitted against each other to depict the battle between Good and Evil. The Devil always seemed to be the more interesting. (Yet people in the Middle Ages lived in real fear of Hell.)
But in Cabaret Barroco, what is Gracioso, who represents sort of a flaky, dishonest and unreliable character?. You don’t want Esquina to marry him because “He’s uncouth,…..A devil in human flesh.” sort of a dirty old, rich man. Do evil characters over time become comic? In Cabaret Barroco, isn’t Gracioso a fool, a clown?
Arellano Garcia: Yes, exactly. The gracioso is a clown.
Rosalind: A bad guy, isn’t he? He behaves badly.
Arellano Garcia: He’s not really a bad guy. He’s silly.
Rosalind: Okay, he’s silly because he’s old and he thinks he can woo a young woman?
Kim: (Public Relations and Marketing Manager, who has been sitting in on this interview.): In Spanish, gracioso means funny. Is it a play on words?
Arellano Garcia: Yes, gracioso also means funny. Gracioso, the character, is a fool, like an old fool. And he can be fooled easily.
Rosalind: The girls lie to him and he falls for it. He’s gullible.
Arellano Garcia : And Esquina is a typical Moreto girl character. She lies to her friends, she lies to the men, all the time.
Rosalind: Because appearances are so important?
Arellano Garcia : Yes. That’s very important in the entremés, to keep up appearance of good.
Rosalind: Yes, the women were trying to keep up the appearance of the Virgin Mary but underneath it all, they’re picking your pockets.
Arellano Garcia: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, these characters are picaras, rogues, scoundrels, thieves. The word in English is?
Kim: Picaresque. They’re tricksters.
Rosalind: Oh, it’s so much more fun to be evil, a tricky devil. That’s the idea?
Arellano Garcia: Yes, yes, and more interesting for an actor to play. The girls here are the clever ones. The men are the dunces, slow to catch on. The girls are tricking the men. And that’s why we chose this interlude by Bernardo de Quirós, El Muerto, Eufrasía, the Astrolog and Tronera. Eufrasía is a very typical strong woman. Lorenzo, played by Jimmy Navarro, is the brother of Eufrasía, played by Carmen Cabrera. Lorenzo, is trying to interfere in his sister’s love affair with her astrologer, played by Chani Martín. In the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, the women have really, really strong characters. She decides to lie to trick her brother so she can marry the man she loves, the Astrologist.
Rosalind: It’s a wonderful sketch. Yes, Astrólogo uses witchcraft phrases, “Nausi friti, nausi friti,” to trick Lorenzo into believing he is being brought back to life from Death.
Arellano Garcia : Right. Tronera hatches a plot to trick him. Tronera and Eufrasía tell Lorenzo he is dead. This beautiful, gentle lady, who looks very honest and nice, is capable of trickery to get her way.
Closes October 6, 2013
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Tickets: $38 – $42
Thursdays thru Sundays
Arellano: Yes, because in the Baroque period, the actress in Spain was important. In this script, for instance, and this is really beautiful. Some of the characters, are real people from the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre. Calderon, for instance, wrote interludes for a famous actress, La Baltasara, the Glenn Close of the Golden Age. Baltasara plays Menga, what Calderon wrote for her. We took this actress from reality and put her in the show. She was a real actress from the Golden Age who lived in the 17th century. She is played by Menchu Esteban, a GALA company actress.
Rosalind: So Menchu Esteban plays Baltasara who plays Menga and other characters in this show? Many roles in one?
Arellano: (laughing) Yes, it’s fun. Calderon didn’t make Baltasara up. Some of these characters are based on real actors. The female actors were powerful in the companies in the Theatre of the Baroque. So for that reason, I tried to pick interludes with strong woman characters, who are always tricking the male characters.
Rosalind: The girls in these scripts do come across as smart, witty, and strong.
Arellano: The girl characters are quick, clever, beautiful. I felt it was so important that there’s a song, “Hooray for the ladies. We don’t like men.” (Arellano sings the melody by David Peralto who composed all the music.)The battle of the sexes in song. So beautiful
Arellano: What’s different here is that in Spain, the picaresque characters were also women, not just men. And in these interludes I selected, the women are picaras or tricksters.
Rosalind: One last question that goes back to my first one. You mentioned you started as an actor and then became a director. What was your favorite role when you acted? Or what character would you most like to play?
Arellano: (after thinking hard for a moment) One of the lead roles in Life Is a Dream, by Calderon, or Alonso in El Caballero de Olmedo, by Lope de Vega. (Arellano may see himself as the courageous knight riding into the twilight, but as a director, he seems more open-minded, versatile, as if he could play all these roles.)
Rosalind: From reading the script, I am reminded of the deflationary humor in the anti-hero, Cosme Rana, in Calderón’s El Toreador, who says something like, “I don’t think I can be a bullfighter. The doctor said my pulse is erratic. I have high blood pressure.” Something like that. So Cosme Rana tries to make friends with the bull and gets thrown from his horse.
Arellano: Yes, and it’s funny, isn’t it?
Rosalind: Yes, and it sounds real. Overall, what’s the point? What do you want people to take from this show?
Arellano: The importance of life. Life is a theatre. Enjoy!
Cabaret Barroco: Interludes of Spain’s Golden Age, a world premiere . Interludes by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Luis Quiñones de Benavente, Jerónimo de Cáncer, Agustín Moreto, Francisco de Quevedo and Francisco Bernardo de Quirós . Adapted by Mar Zubieta and Francisco Rojas . Music composed by David Peralto and Alberto Granados . Directed by José Luis Arellano García . English translation by David Johnston . Produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre in collaboration with Acción Sur S.L. from Spain.