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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
"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
— Jack Florek
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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