Spanish Language Drama Group: A Solid Home (Preview)
by Jake Roslin
photo courtesy of Jake Roslin
“Oh happy times when I ran around the house like a spark, sweeping, wiping off the dust that fell onto the piano in streams of gold and when everything shone like a comet, breaking the ice of the buckets that I had left in the open air and I took a bath in the water reflecting the winter stars.”- Mother Jesusita, A Solid Home Thanks to movies such as Coco and Spectre, the vividly colourful Mexican celebration of deceased ancestry, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), has firmly entered the western cultural lexicon.But the roots of the tradition of celebrating the dead’s part within a ‘cyclical theory’ of the universe go back three millennia, to the Nahua and Aztecs, in what is now central Mexico. Until the late 20th century the tradition of visiting gravesides to eat, sing and dance on a certain date of the year was confined to rural areas of Mexico, and that’s where a 1957 play newly revived by the Spanish Language Drama Group comes in.Un Hogar Sólido (A Solid Home), by Mexican writer Elena Garro (1920-1998), refers to the only ‘solid’ home we have on earth being that which follows death, and it’s a work which may well not have been performed in this country before. Indeed there’s no official translation from the Spanish, and it is this new Aberdeen University society who has painstakingly created an English translation, which will be projected in the form of surtitles onto the back wall of the stage, synchronised to the actors. The group is newly formed for the project and is an ensemble cast of eight playing members of the same family who died over the period of a century.
Lourdes Parra-Lazcano, a staff member in Spanish & Latin American Studies at Aberdeen, is directing the play. She told The Gaudie that Elena Garro is little known today as a playwright, her political activism and marriage to the Mexican writer and diplomat Octavio Paz tending to overshadow her own prolific career, which included novels, short stories and plays.The dead of the play, which runs for less than half an hour, reminisce about the different members of the family’s lives in their various period costumes. Suddenly, they are interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected newcomer: Lidia is the latest death in the family, and she must be inducted into her new ‘life’ in the crypt.
Named best Mexican play of 1957, Garro’s semi-autobiographical story fits into a long tradition of magical realist culture in central and southern America - think writers Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges - not to mention fine artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a couple whose lives and relationship seem to have been striking similar to that of Garro and Paz.Since completing her PhD, Lourdes has extensively studied Garro. “I find her fascinating,” she told The Gaudie, “She is one of the first writers to include magical realism in her texts in Latin America, but since she had many political and personal problems, her writing has not been acknowledged just from a poetic perspective.”The new production is supported by the School of LLMVC, the Spanish & Latin American Studies Department and the AU Hispanic Society. And while the tradition of Día de los Muertos is now known worldwide, and indeed rather subsumed into other cultures - including in the date of its celebration into western Halloween traditions - Garro’s work is intellectually stimulating and witty rather than being just a musical spectacle. Despite the fact the group is putting on just one performance, for now, the production has been months in rehearsal, with carefully designed makeup and costume.Un Hogar Sólido plays at the Arts Lecture Theatre on Wednesday 20 March at 2 pm, in Spanish with projected English surtitles. You can find more information via the University of Aberdeen Hispanic Society’s Facebook page