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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the January 24,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

`Other Fires’ at McCarter

I find that in Spanish and Latino theater, the


have to be more important than the intellectual ideas," says Nilo

Cruz. "There’s an intellectual distance in all these plays. Ideas

are captured more effectively when they are incorporated into reality

or life, especially when they are colored with emotion."

Nilo Cruz, McCarter Theater’s resident playwright, is describing four

plays by Spanish and Latino writers that will comprise "Other

Fires," a free reading series presented Friday through Sunday,

January 26 through 28, at Forbes College Theater on the Princeton

campus. Works by Federico Garcia Lorca, Maria Irene Fornes, Mario

Vargas Llosa, and Jose Rivera will each be given a script-in-hand

public performance by professional actors.

In a phone interview from McCarter’s offices, Cruz explains that the

purpose of the reading series is to introduce audiences to different

aspects of the Latino experience.

"I was the first living Latino writer to be presented on the


stage," says Cruz. "McCarter is starting to embrace Latino

writers, and it’s important to continue to expose work coming from

Latin American writers and those of Hispanic heritage." Among

the non-living Latino writers who have been featured at McCarter,

Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s last play,


House of Bernarda Alba," was adapted and staged by artistic


Emily Mann in 1997. Lorca was executed without a trial in 1936, two

weeks after his play’s original premiere.

In presenting the four plays of "Other Fires," McCarter offers

a kind of road map of the Latino experience. "We’re trying to

give different angles," says Cruz. "We go from Spain to Latin

America and then to North America."

"In putting together this reading series, we want to continue

to extend our reach to Latino audiences as well as to draw in general

audiences with an interest in hearing this material," adds Janice

Paran, McCarter’s dramaturg and director of play development. Yet

it is equally true that Nilo Cruz, in curating the readings, has


plays that he personally feels a passion for, plays that have


his own writing. "All these plays are plays that Nilo loves,"

says Paran, matter-of-factly. "The series is his brainchild."

Cruz, who was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States at the

age of 10, has been associated with McCarter since 1995 when he was

commissioned to write a short play for the debut of the Second Stage

Onstage Festival. That work was then expanded into a full-length play

titled "A Park In Our House" and staged at McCarter. The


also premiered his highly successful 1999 play, "Two Sisters and

a Piano," that went on to a New York production.

"In preparing for the series, we were looking at ways to explore

corners of the Latino and Spanish theater tradition that we hadn’t

yet gone to," explains Paran. "Because of this residency that

we’ve been fortunate enough to have funding from the Theater


Group and the National Endowment for the Arts. We had a specific grant

period during which we could take advantage of Nilo’s residency and

to have him be on-site with us at McCarter."

Cruz has been busy throughout his McCarter residency.

In addition to developing "Two Sisters and a Piano," he has

taught playwriting workshops to high school students throughout New

Jersey, and worked on a new translation of Lorca’s play, "Dona

Rosita the Spinster." This translation, entitled "The Alchemy

of Flowers," will lead off the reading series on Friday, January

26, at 7 p.m. The readings continue Saturday, January 27, with Maria

Irene Fornes’ "The Conduct of Life," at 3 p.m., and Mario

Vargas Llosa’s "The Young Lady From Tacna" at 7 p.m. Jose

Rivera’s "Cloud Tectonics" will close out the series on


January 28, at 3 p.m. All plays will be performed in English.

Although all four plays can be said to achieve a deep emotional


they create that emotion in very different ways.

"All four of these plays have really distinctive language,"

says Paran. "Irene Fornes’ play is the starkest. There’s nothing

frilly or romantic or embellished at all in her writing. Whereas


play takes great rhetorical and poetic flight in its modes of


"Lorca has always informed my own writing," says Cruz. "He

is a writer who is interested in poetry for the stage, and that’s

something that I’m interested in too. I believe in heightened language

and lyricism through images and that’s something that Lorca was


in his own playwriting." Cruz, who considers himself a political

writer in many ways, also lists Fornes as an influence, saying her

political plays, and particularly "The Conduct of Life," have

deep meaning for him.

"The Conduct of Life" is a dark play set in Latin America

in which an army general captures an illiterate young woman and abuses

her, while trying to keep the relationship secret from his wife.


kind of jolting," says Paran. "It’s both a personal play,

yet it’s also a look at the abuse of power in the Latin American


"It’s interesting that the Fornes piece is placed between the

Lorca and the Vargas Llosa plays, because I think that it couldn’t

be more different from them," explains Paran. "Fornes, like

Nilo, is a Cuban-born writer who has spent most of her adult career

in the United States. She is one of the great Latino writers of her

generation. Most of her career has been Off and Off-Off Broadway,

so she’s still not considered a mainstream writer."

Mario Vargas Llosa, known primarily as a novelist, nevertheless has

also had a great impact on Cruz’s writing. "He is an inspiration

for me," says Cruz. "Not so much in theater, but certainly

in his fiction. He was a writer who was writing very political books.

I certainly read a lot of his work during the 1970s, when I was in

my 20s."

"I can see why Nilo loves `The Young Lady From Tacna,’" says

Paran. "The subject matter is probably very close to his heart,

or any writer’s heart for that matter. It examines the curious process

of how a writer writes, and where his stories come from."

A story within a story, "The Young Lady From Tacna" is about

a Peruvian writer who revisits his past in search of inspiration.

Unfortunately for him, the characters of his past keep getting away

from him, and instead tell their stories in ways he hadn’t


"It’s a very personal piece," says Paran, "a very


saga about these complicated family members. But it’s also clearly

about the creative process."

"Cloud Tectonics" by Jose Rivera is a love story in which

the lines between realism and fantasy are skewed. It tells the story

of a man who picks up a woman hitchhiking on a rainy evening in Los

Angeles. She calls herself Celestina del Sol, says she’s 54 years

old, and claims to have been pregnant for the past two years.

"It is a play in which the rules of time seem not to work the

way they do in the real world," says Paran. "Characters


each other across seemingly impossible boundaries of time and


things happen. But at its heart, it is a love story between a man

and a woman."

Lorca’s "Dona Rosita the Spinster" ("The Alchemy of


a play less known in the United States than his other works, comes

from Spain. Fornes, a writer based in New York City, looks at Latin

America in "The Conduct of Life." Llosa’s "The Young Lady

From Tacna" is a play that comes out of Latin America, and the

reading series concludes with Rivera’s play about Latinos living in

the United States, in "Cloud Tectonics."

"We wanted to poke our heads out of the sand," adds Paran.

"Nilo has been involved with McCarter for six years, and this

is the culmination of his residency. He has been a wonderful resource

for us."

— Jack Florek

Other Fires, McCarter Theater, Forbes College,

Alexander Road, 609-258-2787. "The Alchemy of Flowers,"

Friday, January 26, 7 p.m. "The Conduct of Life," Saturday,

January 27, 3 p.m. "The Young Lady From Tacna," at Saturday,

January 27, 7 p.m. "Cloud Tectonics," Sunday, January 28, 3

p.m. Free, but reservations are required.

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