Theater / Film
Play ‘Tebas Land’ at Miami-Dade County Auditorium is multi-layered, says director
Daniel Romero and Ariel Texidó in Sergio Blanco’s play “Tebas Land,” which Arca Images presents in Spanish with simultaneous English translations from Thursday, March 16 to Sunday, March 19 at the Black Box Theater in Miami Dade County Auditorium. (Photo courtesy of Alexa Kube/Arca Images).
A playwright visits a prison and requests permission to speak with a prisoner found guilty of killing his father. The writer and the parricide eventually meet on the prison’s basketball court when the authorities allow the request. The prisoner believes the author doesn’t care about him at all because all he wants to do is exploit him. A relationship then develops.
The play “Tebas Land,” by the Uruguayan writer living in Paris, Sergio Blanco, will debut on stage for the first time in Miami from Thursday, March 16 to Sunday, March 19 in the Black Box Theater at the Miami Dade County Auditorium (MDCA). There have been more than 30 productions of the play from Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Barcelona to London, Paris, and Tokyo.
Ariel Texidó plays the writer, and Daniel Romero is the parricide in the play produced by Arca Images. The show will be in Spanish with simultaneous audio translation into English.
The staging was entrusted to Cuban-Spanish theater artist Carlos Celdrán, who, in May of last year, directed Arca’s production of “Abismo,” by Abel González Melo on the same stage. The author of “Tebas Land,” Blanco is currently one of the most recognized Latin American playwrights worldwide for works like “Narciso’s Wrath,” “Traffic,” “When You Walk Over My Grave” and “Darwin’s Leap.”
Celdrán says he’s always wanted to direct a play by Blanco.
“I’ve been a friend of the author for many years,” says Celdrán. “We have had a very close relationship since I read his first works. There was always the idea that I would direct something by him, but due to several circumstances, I postponed it, and the opportunity was not given until now.”
Celdrán says that once the opportunity presented itself, the work he would direct was going to be “Tebas Land.” He considers it Blanco’s most important play and a turning point in his dramaturgy.
“I never saw ‘Tebas Land’ performed. I read it, and I fell in love with it from the very first moment,” says the director. “I like its compositional intelligence, the way he structures all the material playing with autofiction, which allows him to present himself within the story, and how that generates a reflection on the theater itself.”
The concept of autofiction is not new. It came from literature and was coined in 1977 by the French novelist and literary critic Julien Serge Doubrovsky when he was trying to define his novel “Fils” (Sons). Although he refers to the ambiguity of the sources of the story — to what extent the fictional episodes are fed by autobiographical experiences — the resource surely goes back to the first expressions of literature, theater, and visual arts.
Blanco dared to trace it in his book “Autofiction, Engineering of the Self” (Punto de Vista Editores, Madrid, 2018), where he says that it is a “war device against oneself.”
According to Doubrovsky, autofiction is “a fiction of strictly real events and facts.” There is a famous precedent in the phrase attributed to Flaubert, “Madame Bovary c’est moi” (“Madame Bovary is me”), but it is well known that there are serious arguments questioning if it was, in fact, a phrase by Flaubert.
“Blanco puts that as an antecedent in his book, and he also quotes Rimbaud when he writes ‘I am the other one,’ which would be the key to everything,” says Celdrán.
The director explains that “in ‘Tebas Land,’ Blanco is talking about himself, about the theater, and he shows all these tools and creates structure where, in addition to telling a story, he presents several levels of reality. There is the theater, Blanco’s vision that is presented on stage; there is the story of the parricide. It is a multifaceted work, it is told from many angles, and I love that,” he says.
The fascination that “Tebas Land” has sparked in so many nations, according to Celdrán, is primarily due to the playwright’s structural game.
“The important thing is not only the story of a theater director interrogating a parricide,” he comments. “That’s the basic issue, but the key is also how all that is depicted, crossed through autofiction.”
“Autofiction starts from fiction. It is fiction where I invent a self to strengthen the story,” explains Celdrán. In other words, autofiction gives complete freedom to mix real and imagined events.
“That is the key to Sergio Blanco’s poetics,” says Celdrán. “Blanco presents you with a story, and you know that half of it is a lie. It is based on a few true events that he strings together. With that, he creates great confusion, a great disturbance around something, and you are left wondering if it is true and where the border between truth and fiction lies.”
Lately, Blanco has dedicated himself to offering theatrical conferences that are, in fact, shows in which he talks about violence, love, or death. As per Celdrán, these are conferences-performances-theater, “something very rare,” he says.
“It is no longer a conference, but it isn’t a monologue either: it is a hybrid thing, where he appears on stage surrounded by a great production and tremendous audiovisual work to talk, for instance, about death through history,” says the director. “Then he starts showing you works of art, explains them, and mixes those explanations with intimate personal experiences, sometimes erotic ones. He talks to you about the relationship of his body with death, and you wonder: Is it real, or is he making it all up?”
In the end, it is a theatrical game, and that is precisely why “Tebas Land” brings such a rich experience to the spectator. Actually, “Tebas Land” was where this all began. “Little by little, you discover that what is happening on stage is that he is rehearsing and writing what we are seeing,” says Celdrán.
In the play, the writer rehearses with an actor who is the same one who later plays the parricide in the prison interrogations. Based on what the young man tells him, the audience will see that he is writing fiction and that the work is being created in front of his eyes, explains the director.
“You are in front of the murderer, and, at the same time, you slowly realize that this is also the actor,” he says. “The writer interrogates the parricide; he immediately comments with the actor what he saw and begins to add details to the scene that can make it more interesting. He re-introduces you to another scene, and then you realize it elaborates the actual encounter you’ll never see.”
Here comes Sophocles’s “Oedipus Rex,” Dostoevsky’s epileptic character in “The Karamazov Brothers,” Mozart’s troubled relationship with his father, and the connections to Freud.
“For me, what is interesting about this work is that it studies how to build a living relationship and how through dialogue and interest in others, an intense relationship between opposite people can be established, in this case, an intellectual and a marginal,” says Celdrán. “How, through interest and empathy, it is possible for the viewer to experience the journey of friendship that arises between people from such dissimilar worlds; the need to understand the other, to look for him and to get closer to him.”
There’s a game reminiscent of Truman Capote when he investigated the murders for “In Cold Blood,” Celdrán reveals. However, he claims “Tebas Land” is the anti “In Cold Blood,” the anti-Truman Capote.
“Capote is not mentioned at any time, but it is floating in the work,” reveals Celdrán. “The boy is filled with doubts, and what he thinks of the writer is: ‘You come here so that I can tell you what I haven’t told anyone; you come to plunder my story to make your book because it was a crime widely reported by the press.’ Little by little, he realizes that the man is genuinely interested in him and that he can become his friend. It is a journey towards understanding and trust and, amid all that, about the role that art plays in life.”
WHAT: Miami premiere of the play “Tebas Land,” by Sergio Blanco. In Spanish with simultaneous English translation.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, Friday, March 17, and Saturday, March 18. 5 p.m. Sunday, March 19.
WHERE: Black Box Theater at Miami Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami.
COST: $30; $25 for seniors and students.
INFORMATION: 305-547-5414 or arcaimages.org