by Raphael Badagliacca
I held the door open to the building that houses El Repertorio Theater for a man behind me carrying a brightly colored rooster in a cage. I would soon learn that the bird was on the way to the dressing room.
Of course, I already knew this, because I had read this slim novel by my favorite author more than once. I had two causes for concern: the play is in Spanish and I do not speak Spanish and I was still reeling from the hatchet job the 2007 film had done to “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a Marquez masterpiece. Even Javier Bardem in the lead role couldn’t rescue that one.
My fears on both counts were unfounded.
There is a tiny screen mounted on each seat back at El Repertorio where you can select English or Spanish subtitles. Viewing the dialogue this way is not distracting in the least, very much like watching a foreign film. It made me aware once again of how much of a play is communicated non-verbally through gestures, facial expressions and situations.
Someone has died in the town. It is the town’s first death from natural causes. For readers who know the novelist’s work, this calls up the Macondo of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” where it was understood that the townspeople would not consider the land to be theirs until they had buried one of their own. The slow funeral procession of men walking under umbrellas may be the most striking and visually beautiful scene I have experienced on stage.
The play is true to the novella, breathing life and putting color into the action and the moods on the page. For 15 years, the colonel, brilliantly played by German Jaramillo, has been waiting for a letter that will inform him that the pension he was promised after risking his life in the civil war will finally come his way. He dutifully checks the mail every day, but to no avail.
All the while his wife, played with genius by Zulema Clares, has been forced into the role of the realist by the colonel’s relentless optimism. She continually asks him how they will we eat, scanning the rooms for what they can sell. No one, it turns out, wants to buy the old-fashioned clock. People these days want to tell what time it is in the dark.
And then there’s the rooster. He is their most valued possession, not only for what he’s worth but for what the entire town expects him to bring in the next cock fight. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” It is an amazing to see a live rooster strut across the stage. But the colonel’s wife points out that everyone in town will have money to bet on the rooster except us, and have you ever considered that the rooster might lose? Then what? She urges him to sell the rooster, but with the right attitude, as if he is doing a favor for the buyer. He should be able to bring 900 pesos.
Negotiating in this way is not in the colonel’s nature. The weight of their long marriage and that they have lost their only child is evident and made very real by how the actors embody the characters. Disappointment has many layers. The colonel is one of those male characters Marquez is so adept at creating, living somewhat in a world of his own imagining, truly expecting the postman to deliver the long-awaited letter, holding tightly the bird he prizes, but also full of kindness and affection as when he tells the doctor played by Luis Carlos de la Lombana that he would gladly sell the rooster if he knew it would cure his wife’s asthma.
Don Sabas played by Mario Mattei only offers the colonel 400 pesos for the bird, clearly a steal. He represents everything wrong with a society that favors those who manipulate reality to their own ends, without regard for promises made that choke in the convenient machinery of an invisible bureaucracy. At times it seems as if the bleak beauty of the spoken lines could have come out of “Waiting for Godot.” The colonel is irrepressible, but his letter is not coming.
If you have never read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this play is a faithful, excellent introduction to the writings of a great author. Many times, I walked past the Hotel des Trois Colleges in Paris that proudly boasts on a plaque that the author wrote the book out of which this play has been made while living in its rooms. If you are a fan, you won’t be disappointed. Kudos to the director and the entire cast!
Written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Adapted for the stage by Veronica Triana and Jorge Ali Triana.
Directed by Jorge Ali Triana
With Zulema Clares, German Jaramillo and Horatius (the rooster)
Also featured Erick Gonzalez, Luis Carlos de la Lombana, Mario Mattei, Paul Montoya, Txemi Parra and Alfonso Rey.
Scenic design by Raul Abrego; lighting design is by Manuel Da Silva, with costume design by Fernando Then.
Tickets: www.repertorio.nyc El Repertorio 138 East 27th Street
REMAINING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE:
Friday, March 16, 2018 11:00 AM, Friday, March 16, 2018 8:00 PM, Saturday, March 17, 2018 3:00 PM, Saturday, March 17, 2018 8:00 PM, Thursday, March 22, 2018 7:00 PM, Sunday, April 1, 2018 7:00 PM, Friday, April 6, 2018 8:00 PM, Saturday, April 14, 2018, 3:00 PM, Friday, April 20, 2018 11:00 AM, Sunday, April 22, 2018 3:00 PM, Friday, May 4, 2018 8:00 PM, Saturday, May 12, 2018 3:00 PM, Friday, May 18, 2018, 11:00 AM, Friday, May 18, 2018, 8:00 PM, Thursday, May 24, 2018, 7:00 PM