La mujer del abanico (1981) from Gilda Navarra

La mujer del abanico (1981) from Gilda Navarra

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (Spanish acronym ICP) has created theater festivals in the island as part of its mission of promoting all aspects of our culture. The Puerto Rican Theater Festival (Festival de Teatro Puertorriqueño) was founded in 1958, and the International Theater Festival (Festival de Teatro Internacional) in 1966. Both festivals took place in the Tapia Theater in Old San Juan. This multiple creation was without parallel in the history of Puerto Rico because these Theater Festivals established a sense of continuity in dramatic creation, which until then had been sporadic and diffuse.

Playwright Francisco Arriví was one of the coordinators of these dramatic theatrical events, to which he referred as a sort of “Operation Bootstrap within the theater.” His proposals for the Puerto Rican theater are contained in six volumes of his authorship; in addition, he served as director of the ICP’s Oficina de Fomento Teatral (Office of Theatrical Development, now known as the Theater and Dance Program) until the 1980s, establishing guidelines at the professional level for the contemporary theater movement in Puerto Rico.

To date, the Puerto Rican Theater Festival has presented 158 new works, including comedies, historical drama, dramas that are primarily social commentary, mimodramas, image theater, fantasies, allegories, and costumbrista theater. All this is in addition to supporting the Children’s Theater, Areyto (the National Folkloric Dance Company), and the Ballet de San Juan.

A few of the most outstanding plays that have been presented at the Puerto Rican Theater Festival are Los soles truncos (1958) and La carreta (1961) by René Marqués; Tiempo muerto (1962) by Manuel Méndez Ballester; La pasión según Antígona Pérez (1968) and Quíntuples (2001) by Luis Rafael Sánchez; the mimodramas Ocho mujeres (1974) and La mujer del abanico (1981) by Gilda Navarra; Dos musas del agua: Sylvia y Julia (1985) by Ana García; ¿Quién mató a Héctor Lavoe? (2000) by Pablo Cabrera; and Voces (2000) by Myrna Casas.

Arriví’s original proposal was to present a repertory of new works by boricua (Puerto Rican) playwrights. For several years, however, there were not enough new local plays to present as premiers, so the decision was made to reprise older works. As time went on, innovative staging strategies made their debut. The epic theater of Luis Rafael Sánchez arrived on the scene, with characters who were allowed to set themselves free politically; those in Myrna Casas’ theater were permitted psychic self-realization.

The characters in Sánchez’s play Quíntuples, first performed in 1986, make a qualitative leap toward their independence and immortality within the panorama and universal theme of the onstage present of the theater. A set of quintuplets and their father, speaking in monologue, become independent of their author and fight to establish that the story does not matter, but rather the one who tells it, an aphorism that sets them apart from any sort of nationalism, to reclaim an international boricua literary identity. Availing himself of the old Pirandellian trick of the autonomous character, the playwright uses six characters played by two actors to present a meditation on how to use the theater to entertain, a meditation that is, at the same time, a reflection on the old and new art of storytelling.

Another defining contribution has been the theater of Myrna Casas, whose (presumably feminist) drama is seen in such plays as La trampa, Eugenia Victoria Herrera, and El Gran Circo Eucraniano. María in Cristal roto en el tiempo is pessimistic, since her character initially was tied to the powerful influence of René Marqués, only to free herself in the end.

Other works include Pedro Adorno’s aquatic play, Marea alta, marea baja, and before that, La movida de Víctor Campolo (1974) by Luis Rosario Quiles and Foto-Estáticas (1985) by Rosa Luisa Márquez and Antonio Martorell.

The forty-sixth edition of the Festival included incursions into the field of documentary theater, with the monologue El Maestro by Nelson Rivera, in which the character of Pedro Albizu Campos makes his first appearance on the Puerto Rican stage; and into total theater, with Luna Maluca, a creation of Orlando González Rivera in which the ensemble participates in performances, acrobatics, dance theater, masks, and marionettes. There was also a reprise of Arriví’s Vejigantes, presented at the first Festival, as well as the premier performance of Tres amores by Carlos Miranda Hernández, which reveals several stages of the life and work of Juan Antonio Corretjer, the poet from Ciales who was also a leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

All of these works are consistent with the founding philosophy of the Puerto Rican Theater Festival and with the content of its first four premier performances. Although the cultivation of our national theater was a latecomer to Puerto Rican letters, we have entered the 21st century with a body of work that is coherent in its elaboration and content, in a setting that is constantly renewed by influences from the theaters of Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the U.S.

Author: Jorge Rodríguez
Published: November 06, 2008.

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