There have been several shows in the last couple of seasons dealing with people imprisoned by heavy-handed governments, but few are as magical as this one. This production has moments of real grace which underscores the tenuousness of people trying to forge a human connection when duplicity is in the very air one breathes.
This production has moments of real grace…
Written in a fairly spare tone by Irma Correa, the work deals with a writer, Miguel de Unamuno, who is exiled on an island in 1924 for criticizing the Spanish dictator. He is held in a hostel but has access to walks on a beach and tea and meals at a restaurant. At least, at first he does. He is not tortured, but he is separated from his family and his life and his work. Cisco is the young man who is assigned to see to his needs, and there is a very funny interlude when Senor Unamuno teases out the origin of his name (it seems there are several Cisco’s on the island). Unamuno is allowed a couple of visitors, one of whom, a French newspaperman, Dumay, helps him plot an escape. But Unamuno will need help, so he enlists Cisco to help him bribe a guard.
Cisco, too, has dreams. He wants to go to North America, join a whaling ship and see a huge grey whale he has heard of called Moby Dick. He is desperate to believe that Moby Dick is a real whale; a lovely metaphor for the larger life he too longs for.
The next visitor is the lovely Delfina who brings a boat to help Unamuno escape, but he refuses. Delfina wants more from him than he can give. Even modestly dressed, there is so much pent-up passion rolling off of her that she is frightening.
Unexpectedly, Unamuno is “pardoned” by the dictator, but he refuses to just walk away with a pardon. He is intent on escaping with his ideals intact. He entreats Cisco to come with him to Paris, but the young man is intent on staying and saving up on his own to get to America and the whaling ship. There is a twist at the end that helps explain this—the young man will sacrifice more than Unamuno is aware of.
As Unamuno, Horacio Pena is maddening and generous and frightened and angry and determined and weary. Victor De La Fuente imbues Cisco with a combination of optimism and naivete and dignity that makes one ache for him on this dreaming isle.
Luz Nicolas plays two characters, Concha and the aforementioned Delfina. She brings a repressed ardor to Delfina that is almost overpowering, and yet sad. Delbis Cardona plays Dumay, the French newspaperman, and the General in charge of the island prison. He played both roles so very in keeping with each man’s character, that at first, I didn’t realize it was one man playing both.
The very spare set is at once light and heavy; it has a locked door, there is little furniture, but there are two tall windows overlooking the sea (Scenic and costume designs: Silvia de Marta). The lighting design invokes various times of the day and climatic conditions with assurance (Lighting and sound designs: Jesús Díaz).
Jose Luis Arellano Garcia directs with a poetic touch. The language in the play is elegant, and while Unamuno’s way of speaking is more fluid than Cisco’s, the director uses the language of gestures and physicality to underscore the bond that grows between the two men, and its limitations.
This is a lovely show that has a lot to say about what happens when dictators take control, and human interaction and dreams are trifled with. This is a world premiere that has meaning and depth and love.
Advisory: There is one gunshot at the end. There are also subtitles in English on screens flanking the stage.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Information: “El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar” runs from February 7 – March 3, 2019, at Gala Hispanic Theatre, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.