Tag Archives: Spain


13 July 2007 –Val and I took the bus from Madrid to Mérida to see Fedra, yet another adaptation of the twisted, tragic Greek love story about a woman (Fedra) who madly adores her stepson, Hippolytus (Fran Perea), an unrequited love, the outcome of which dooms Hippolytus to death. Playwright: Juan Mayorga. Director: José Carlos Plaza. Ana Belén, a truly talented singing star born in Madrid, plays the sexy, unhinged Fedra with adroit skill.

The spectacle of a modern production in an ancient Roman theatre was one of the highlights of my UNO playwriting residency this summer. (the other: the reading of my play, Graffiti, at Chaminade in Madrid). Even sitting on sharp rocks in the top row of slave seats didn’t bother too much, especially since we’d been warned and had come prepared with seat cushions. (Me & Val)

Agrippa built this Teatro Romano in 18 B.C.E.. Mérida was founded as a Roman outpost circa 25 B.C.E.; commissioned by the Emperor Augustus from whom the name of the city, Emérita Augusta, was taken.

Except for the ice in the drinks at the bar, the venue does not offer much 21st century luxury. The show started at 11pm—to avoid the heat. The summer heat in Spain immobilized my body, a draining, dry, insidious heat. Just to keep moving, I was forced, at times, to drink copious amounts of refreshing tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine, and something like 7-up with the all-important ice.

Since I am familiar with Euripides’s story (428 BC) about the lustful Phaedra titled, Hippolytus, I was able to follow along with the plot, all in Spanish. Through the ages the story has been retold by Seneca, Racine, and the bilbaíno, Unamuno. But this version, premiered at the Classical Theater Festival of Merida, was obviously written for Belén—long, longggg monologues. In truth, the other main characters had their time in the spot, but Belén owned center stage. However, in conversing with an educated male of Mexican/American heritage, I was impressed with his confession, “the performance brought tears to my eyes.” Belén’s numerous, long soliloquies didn’t ruin the drama for him.

Since Mayorga won the National Theater Award last month for Fedra, and received 30,000 euros from the Ministry of Culture, the play, and most definitely Belén struck a chord in the hearts of many. But even Mayorga admitted, “It has been said that I have written this work for Ana Belén, […], but it is not true.” The “author” doth protest too much.
Fedra Review

Regardless, the production and set stunned me with the extraordinary mix of ancient and modern. A large red rectangular (or trapezoid?) shaped backdrop was placed upstage dwarfing the actors and used as a prop from time to time, to lean on, crouch next to, and so on, and a diagonal line cut into it illuminated with a laser light during intense moments.

The stage lights were strategically placed to highlight the various headless statues and half-ruined columns, and the excellent surround music track of eerie voices, coupled with occasional fog, added depth to the sword fight and tragic end. Bravo!!! The crowd wildly applauded during curtain call and rewarded the cast with a vibrant standing ovation–a welcomed event for me after sitting two hours on rocks (cushion notwithstanding). The pageantry of the event overwhelmingly carried the night.

The theatre seats about 6000 and the adjacent amphitheatre could have held 15,000 on a good day in the province of Augusta Emerita. Other productions at the 2007 festival: The Persas, Lisístrata, Adiós, Brother Cruel, Andrómaca, The Banquet of Orfeo, The Troyanas, Metamorphoses, , Orestíada, Antígona, Orión, & Electra.

The next day Val and I toured the relic of an amphitheatre adjacent to the theatre, where many gladiators and animals met their bloody death to entertain the local population; obviously one, if not the ancestral origin of the bullfight staged in Spain today.


Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke at Reina Sofia in Madrid

Madrid was beautiful on my walk home from the University Of New Orleans’s opening night fiesta at Plaza Mayor last month, an event for students studying abroad, and in my case, working on my MFA residency in playwriting. Shiny marble statues adorn granite buildings with massive doors of wood or steel and line promenades that periodically give way to plazas centered around grand lit-up fountains honoring gods like Neptune, Cibeles, and (guffaw) Christopher Columbus? I was born in Columbus, Ohio. Not a name I particularly like to honor these days. The brainwashing about the ‘discovery’ of the New World was excised from my brain years ago, but Cristobal Colon is still a hero in Spain.

Life is good. ¡Pero, Madrid es muy caliente! Everyone’s got to have a fan!

Literature ruled the day, especially my re-visit of Hemingway for the Expatriate Class taught by Dr. Nancy Dixon.

Most of my life I’ve had no use for Hemingway, other than a required High School assignment. His bruhaha and machismo made me puke. I gave up on him years ago, after I read the story about how he liked to shoot terns for fun. I couldn’t divorce my opinion of the man from his writings, no matter how special…or handsome.

After reading A Moveable Feast, I found myself laughing out loud. The ‘pussy’ stuff about Gertrude Stein is a riot, but then he describes her.

She got to look like a Roman emperor and that was fine if you liked your women to look like Roman emperors. (119)

Stein’s chastising Hemingway for reading Huxley hilarious;

Huxley is a dead man. Why do you want to read a dead man? Can’t you see he is dead?

Hemingway busted Stein for saying the current generation (1920) was “lost.” Hemingway goes on.

All generations were lost by something, and always had been, and always would be.(30)

I agree. My generation is certainly no exception. Look at the “lost” leadership that rose to power from my crew. Pathetic. The 70s did seem a little fuzzy in terms of definiton. That 70’s Show isn’t far from the truth – just screwin’ around, getting laid or trying to get laid – both parents still in the house, and the dad “seems” to be the boss. Glad all that war stuff is over. Time to party! There’s a token foreigner hanging around, and he’s gay, so that only takes one actor.

Hemingway is a dick to wag on F. Scott Fitzgerald and others, but then he says things like this.

By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it up by finding something better. (62)

The thrift of his writing was a phenomena in his time. After reading A Movable Feast, I let my indifference go. I love his writing, at least in this book, and honor the moments of perfection in an imperfect man. Once I realized that Hemingway paved the way for some of my heroes like (early) Henry Miller and then later Hunter Thompson, his legacy made sense. His line about “transplanting yourself” (5) rings true – as I write about things back home…

The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s book about Europeans grousing around the bull run and fight in Pamplona, was a painless read, but pain is all a bull gets in a bull fight – disgusting event disguised as art. I suppose when the animal groans it means he’s happy?!

Feint of hearts – close your eyes 😦

And then, there’s the other art in Madrid. I paid my homage to Guernica

It was something I needed to do by myself. When I moved to NY in the 70s, I spent many hours at MoMA (in total) staring at this. This exhibit at Reina Sofia has no benches, so I didn’t stay all that long, but there was the pitiful horse, the pitiful women, and the stodgy bull still lording over all. My eye seemed to gravitate to the female holding a lamp, zooming in from above to shine a light on the horror for the world to see – for a world to care is another matter.

In the 70s when I first looked at this painting I had no clue about the Spanish Civil War, other than it being the cause celeb for writers and actors. Errol Flynn comes to mind, as well as Hemingway et al. For me, the suffering was (and still is) a global malady, a malady that still tears at my heart. Picasso nailed it with this work.

And speaking of Goddesses…

The day I arrived in Madrid I was surrounded by a huge Gay Pride Parade. The streets everywhere around my apartamento were blocked off. My place was near the district of Chueca, a sort of West Village gay community. I have since explored the area, and love the little shops, and cobblestone streets. At one edge of this community is the huge statue/fountain of Cibeles, the Greek Goddess of fertility. Her priests in Rome were trans-gendered males. This Goddess is the one Waite used for the Strength Card in his Tarot. I have certainly relied heavily on the strength of Cibele over the years. I’ll end this chapter of my mee-moir with a picture of the Goddess watering her lions.
Hey, Madrid is one HOT city!