By Randy Gener
NEW YORK CITY | Did you know? The first staged reading of Pulitzer Prize–winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first successful Broadway musical was at the Repertorio Español in New York.
And did you know? Spanish-speaking New Yorkers can actually see and hear Spanish–speaking plays — without the onus of being identifies with any specific Latin-American community. Where? Where else? At Repertorio Español.
What’s important for this New York troupe is the mark that it serves all of New York’s Spanish-speaking groups. Not just Puerto Ricans or only Dominicans or Chicanos.
Take the plays currently running there. At the company’s space — located at 138 East 27th Street in Manhattan between Lexington and Third Avenues — you will be able to see Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD, Isabel Allende’s THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS and Julia Álvarez‘s IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES.
According to Robert Weber Federico, the company’s leader, serving audiences of many nationalities and interests marks its mission and unique repertory method of producing. Once a common practice, particularly in Europe, it has become extremely rare for companies to keep several plays in rotation at the same time. This season, in fact, a second Julia Álvarez novel has been adapted into EN EL NOMBRE DE SALOME (IN THE NAME OF SALOME).
In terms of authorship, the most unique aspect involve IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES and l, THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. What’s curious is that these New York productions are directly credited to playwright Caridad Svich and not these novels’ original authors. Yes, they are based on the books, but the play texts themselves do not even say that each one is “an adaptation.” This situation is as opposed to the other two works which explictly notes that they were intimately molded to represent their authors’ onstage appearances.
Did the novelists object? Nope. Svich did something bolder. Isabel Allende herself says, ““Caridad didn’t try to follow the plot. She recreated the atmosphere and spirit of the book. She has a very original, very special kind of mind. It just goes wild, and I admire that. She’s not restricted by anything.”
Commissioned and produced in February 2009 (in Spanish-language) by Repertorio Espanol, THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS traces the rise and fall of a family called Trueba in an un-named Latin American country (reminiscent of Chile). Caridad Svich’s play spans the 1920s through the 1970s, as the country moves through enormous sociopolitical changes that culminate in a devastating dictatorship.
What fascinates is that the play is told from what Svich calls “the sensorial point of view of the youngest of three generation of women, Alba, who is held as the play opens, in a torture room by the government.” Alba’s swirl of memories, frightening and funny and fantastic, illuminate the stage as Alba records her family’s history and ultimately finds the strength to recover her own story.
Daringly, Svich reimagines Allende’s vision. So completely has Svich crafted the play that the result is that it is more properly “by Caridad Svich” and not “by Isabel Allende.”
Making the invisible visible — that’s what propels Svich’s version, which has been given a classical-canon staging by director Jose Zayas.
As Svich tells me, “I’ve spent about 15 years of my writing life as a dramatist telling stories of those marginalized by society (either by poverty, sexual difference and discrimination, prejudice, violence, class wars, and lack of property ownership). The more I write the more I’m interested in looking at myriad intersections of class, authority and power and those challenging authority and/or resisting, especially, tyrannical power.”
In what way does her current work either as a playwright or NoPassport theater alliance founder tackles some those very issues which the U.S. stage have failed or neglected to address?
“I’m an arts activist and a political artist, but I consciously don’t write ‘issue’ plays,” Svich says. “I’m interested in human behavior, for good or ill, and in looking at what people do, why they do what they do, and whether change is possible. I don’t pretend that art-making can effect immediate change in a legislative sense, unless it is designed explicitly to incite it. However I do think seeds of spiritual or emotive change can occur through viewing and/or experiencing art — seeds which may not flower until much later in a person’s life.”
What allows Svich to brave the non-adaptation approach?
She replies: “Plays are events in time and space. Plays are music. Word music. Visual music. I’ve always thought of plays as a form of composition—of text and the architecture of the experience of the full-length evening.”
For tickets, please call 212-225-9999 for information and reservations for Group Sales, Combotickets, Gift Certificates, and Accessibility seating. Or click here to visit the Repertorio’s official website.