The young Raquel Diana is known in Uruguay as both an actress and a prolific playwright, having written four plays over the past three years. Her most recent work, Cuentos de Hadas (“Fairy Tales”), has received three of Uruguay’s most prestigious drama awards. Her writing will hit you with the harsh realities of Latin American politics and woo you with the poetry of magical realism. But, possibly because something may be lost in Teatro de la Luna’s simultaneous translation of the play, you may find yourself bewildered by what you see on the stage. Still, this production offers performances that are moving enough to pull you over the occasional bump.
Cuentos de Hadas follows Blanca (Anabel Marcano) back and forth from girlhood to adulthood as she narrates both fairy tales and historical events refracted through the prism of her life. Stepping in and out of the action, Blanca pauses the story at will to set herself up as a foil to universally fabled heroines such as Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.
Much to her dismay, Blanca was not named for her heroine Blancanieves (Snow White). In fact, she says, after her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, she feels more like a brotherless Gretel, an orphan left to wander in the politically charged forest of ’70s and ’80s Montevideo under the self-indulgent dictatorship of her wicked stepmother, Maruja (Muriel Alfonseca): “There I was: lost in the forest, abandoned and without a brother,” she recalls. “I wanted a road home, but I hadn’t gathered stones or bread crumbs. I just forgot.”
Despite her stepmother’s constant string of male companions and the omnipresence of her jovial older neighbor and friend, Carmen (Nucky Walder), their lives are lonelier than ever, and Princess Blanca increasingly uses her active imagination to escape reality. Maruja and Blanca, guided through their grief and Blanca’s teenage years by Carmen’s lighthearted sagacity, eventually learn to live together—and to forge some kind of friendship.
Surmounting director Mario Marcel’s sleepy blocking (impeded, perhaps, by the unwieldy kitchen table smack in the center of the stage), too-fast scene-ending lighting cues, and overlong and sometimes inappropriate scene-change music, the strength of this production lies in the passion and tenderness Marcano breathes into the character of Blanca. Realistically portraying Blanca both as a child and as an expectant mother scarred by rape, torture, and years of political protest, Marcano vaporizes the fourth wall with her soliloquies and her penetrating stare. Unfortunately, Marcano’s dramatic intensity is not always met by that of Alfonseca, who reads more like a grown-up Marcia Brady than a depressed young widow.
Some of the more memorable moments of the show, which generate smiles and knowing laughter from the Spanish-speaking audience members (the gringos in the audience have to rely on headphoned translations), occurred when the vivacious Walder appeared on stage. As the seemingly ancient Carmen, Walder recalls beloved grandmothers and aunts the world over as she liberally applies old wives’ tales, blessings, and curses to every situation: “Tell him for me that St. Anthony’s fire is going to consume him, and no witch doctor will be able to cure him,” Carmen says of an evil colonel who’s responsible for the political catastrophe that befalls Blanca. “And that itch he has down there…How do I know? I know everything, my girl….Tell him I’m going to pray for his cock to fall off.” Despite the laughability of this line, Carmen’s fierce devotion to two women who aren’t technically family will seem inspiring and familiar to many females in the audience.
Because the set includes giant scrapbook panels with photographs, letters, and official documents about individuals who disappeared during various Uruguayan political movements of the ’70s and ’80s, it would have been helpful for Teatro de la Luna to include a program note about the history of Uruguay during this time. For example, as a factory worker, the now-married Blanca becomes involved with labor movements, and her life is threatened when she falls in love with a wanted political operative, “El Negro.” The production renders this entire aspect of the plot confounding, not only because the translation is sometimes hard to follow, but because, in the same scene, Blanca both extols the virtues of communism—”[A communist is] a person who believes that you can build a better world where there’s no misery or injustice, where everyone has what he needs and can live in peace”—and also poses as a freedom fighter: “[W]e have to get organized and fight for democracy.” Regardless of this apparent contradiction, Marcel’s imaginative staging of Blanca’s punishment for her association with “El Negro” gives rise to one of the play’s most sobering and haunting moments.
Following Blanca’s torture, Marcano is brilliant, revealing just enough about her experience to conjure our deepest dread of the country’s military dictatorship. In a coup of actorly elasticity, swinging between horrifying history and unabashed reverie, Marcano adds years and experience to the adult Blanca while still managing to send chills down our spines with her hopeful innocence. CP