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Gabriel García Márquez‘s story “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother”isn’t the easiest work to stage. In the novel, Eréndira, a young girl, is forced by her grandmother to work as a prostitute after burning down their home in an accident. A road trip of sorts follows, with Eréndira traveling from town to town, finally marrying a young man and attempting to escape her grandmother.
For director Jorge Alí Triana, who adapted the story for with Carlos José Reyes, confining the expansive work to an evening of theater has proven to be a challenge. “It’s a physical trip through the desert,” Triana tells Arts Desk. “For the main character, it’s also a trip to hell.”
The play opens tomorrow at GALA Hispanic Theatre, and to illustrate Eréndira’s trip, Triana had GALA build a stage with a rotating platform “to create a sense of the trip.” That platform is surrounded by a fence, made of sticks. “It should feel like it’s a prison,” Triana says. “It should feel like a jail for Eréndira.”
Other than the platform and fence, the stage contains a few props and a blue background. “It’s very minimalist,” Triana says. “In the distance you should see freedom—-something very difficult for her [Eréndira] to obtain.”
Triana said that, in adapting Márquez’s novel for the stage, he has aimed for a “baroque… almost surrealist” style of presentation. “It’s not about displaying a novel on the stage,” he says. “The novel already exists—-it’s wonderful as it is.”
His interpretation has added some elements you won’t find Márquez’s original work. For example, whenever Eréndira’s grandmother is on stage, she’s accompanied by an angel—-a choice Triana says he “feels intuitively.” Depending on the context, the angel can represent everything from the grandmother’s own conscience to the omniscient presence of God.
Triana, who has been working with this interpretation for 15 years, says he’s no longer sure which parts of the play are drawn directly from the text and which parts come from his imagination. “It’s like when you tell a lie for so long and so many times, you start to think it’s true,” he says.
Triana said he’s not alone in forgetting which elements originally came from the text. A friend of Márquez, Triana said the author attended a performance of the play in Bogotá, and sent a note to Triana telling him he should add a line to the play.
Márquez said the new line had come from the story, but when Triana checked, he said he couldn’t find it. Marquez had invented the line, thinking it came from his own work, Triana explained.
“I told [Márquez] he should write it in,” Triana laughed.
Feb. 3 to Feb. 27. GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. (202) 234-7174. The play is in Spanish, with English surtitles.
Thanks to Camille Cintrón for translation assistance.