Further proof that LOOKING FOR DRAMA is part of the human condition comes directly from the mouth of acclaimed Argentine actor Ricardo Darín, probably the most famous Spanish-speaking thespian in the world. The actor of stage and screen (Hijo de la Novia (Son of the Bride) 2001, Truman 2015) reunites with accomplished actress Érica Rivas and director Norma Aleandro (both, Hijo de la Novia). Together they grapple Ingmar Bergman’s epic family drama Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage), originally a 1973 mini series, then a Golden-Globe-winning film, then a play… it is, obviously, the latter presented here in lightly Argentine Spanish and entitled Escenas de la vida conyugal.
At a press conference held in Barcelona’s Teatre Tívoli prior to the play’s premiere (and subsequent BCN sell out), Darín and Rivas sat nervously before the microphones. Escenas had a successful run in Argentina, spent a spell in Lima, Peru and now, after a break, has embarked on a Spanish tour – Barcelona (no tickets left) to Madrid (21.10 – 15.11) to Valencia (18.11 – 6.12). The reason they were nervous, the actors explained, was the unpredictable nature of stage acting, especially in relation to a play that had proved so divisive with audiences…
BLOGOSPHERE DISCLAIMER: I am translating here from a recording in Argentine Spanish. I have tried my best but have inevitably paraphrased and reworded. I invite and welcome members of the production to read my blog and correct me!
Darín began by clarifying that Escenas… was a rigorously authentic interpretation of Bergman’s play, neither adapted nor updated, out of respect to rights and to the Bergman family, yet also to keep focused on the drama.
Ricardo Darín: Escenas de la vida conyugal has nothing to do with the TV miniseries and is not an extract of the film, it is a play written by Bergman after the film and made specifically for theatre. Ours is a faithful version, a condensation of everything that happened between the two characters over the course of their relationship. It proceeds chronologically with leaps in time and without flashbacks.
Tech gadgets have been kept out of it.
RD: We didn’t want ‘modernity’ to intoxicate the work. The play is about what is said and what is not said, face-to-face, not via text message! One point we did discuss was a phone call that Marianne receives; what sort of phone should it be? Landline or cell? But we always felt that the production should be traditional in the artisanal spirit.
The play, based on Bergman’s own experience in five marriages, centres on an infidelity. But it’s much bigger than that, explains Darín.
RD: It tells the story of a relationship between two people during a 20-year period, passing through different periods of time. In each, the couple are completely immersed in what’s going on between them. I’d say it was a collage of distinct situations and conflicts that could occur between any couple or in any marriage so any of us can identify with them personally. Yet Bergman has the capacity to probe further such relationships, spin them out, allowing us to reach a kind of catharsis. To see it from the outside, you see what happens when two people are saturated in these kind of marital conflicts, which allows you to visualise your own conflicts with perspective.
The production is advertised as a ‘dramatic comedy’, which has raised eyebrows. Darín explained that the comedy arose spontaneously out of the drama – unexpectedly at times.
RD: Twenty years ago, our director Norma had played the part of Mariana (original: Marianne) opposite Alfredo Alcón’s Juan (Johan). In our early readings of the text she was continually telling me: “you’re going to be surprised by the things that the audience will find funny, and that you don’t.” Yet even though I was prepared, it was the sheer number of people who found it amusing that surprised me. Despite the fact that we are dealing with serious conflicts that are almost tragic … in those very moments that many in the audience laughed.
That must be unsettling…
RD: I think it was a particular kind of laughter though, something liberating about it. The ability to laugh at something close to us, something we can relate to, is a form of exorcism. The human tendency is to over-dramatise stuff, and often with good reason. But when we perceive this as spectators it allows us to keep a perspective, we actually enjoy aspects that the people involved in them don’t. In the best of cases, we can deflate… even laugh at them, and this way overcome them. Sometimes when we’ve been out after the show we found members of the audience arguing over particular situations in the piece.
Preparations to play the parts of Mariana and Juan required immersion yet also objectivity.
Érica Rivas: There’s always playfulness to rehearsals. It’s like when you’re a kid in the playground, Ricardo’s the one you want to play with because he’s the must fun – so its great working with him as it’s always a playful yet profound experience.
RD: There are different kinds of acting styles. I read a review of my recent film Truman in which the critic comments on the ‘natural’ way I portrayed my character. Of course I wasn’t going through what that character is, but I think in a sense, you have to place value in your own (fortunate) reality as an actor in order to act a part ‘naturally’.
ER: As Norma is a director and actress she placed focus on our own emotional responses, never talking down to us but accompanying us, edging us towards our own feelings about how our characters develop. She knew the piece in such profundity that she had formulated her own internal landscapes, and had her own strong vision. But, as she told me, in taking the play to Spain we should also learn from and develop our characters and ourselves as actors, as influenced by these new contexts, the new spaces and audiences…
The piece is one with a life of its own – performance to performance – one that provokes multiple, spontaneous responses.
ER: The play proposes a game between the characters, their situations and the audience, so we are always apprehensive. Every performance is different, as the audience is always different, each individual bringing in their own stories reacts differently…
RD: The piece is completed with the (distinct) eye of the spectator, each audience member relates and responds to the play in a way that is unique. The sum of everyone’s experiences that surround us are incorporated into the play in a continual renegotiation of its meaning. There are those who become outraged with particular situations in contrast to the person sitting next to them… and yet the opposite may occur in another situation. There can also be collective responses, significant silences, or 800 people responding with a laugh… Yet it always seems so casual, like a spark from the stage is met by a disposition to respond by the audience… There is something alive in theatre. And the pleasure in it for an actor is immediate and much more intimate than cinema acting. When we’re up on stage we’ve got one chance: no correction, no editing, no take-two…
RD: It encourages sincerity, I think. With this play, I believe Bergman generated a criticism of the traditions surrounding marriage, as if he were trying to recapture beyond all that, the core of love between two people. I get the sensation that the structure and the obligations of marriage had got too much for him and he reacted creatively by deciding to speak openly, controversially, of certain aspects. But I don’t think it encourages divorce at all, on the contrary, there are enough indications in the piece to support marriage too.
Couple therapy, anyone?
RD: I think analysing ourselves is a mistake; it’s an abstraction … if you’re lucky enough to find love, marry, enjoy life together then you should go with it, not categorise it or stick a label on it, either in relation to previous experience or to the experiences of others. Every single relationship is unique.
Escenas de la vida conyugal (Scenes from a Marriage) by Ingmar Bergman,
directed by Norma Aleandro
The play is in lightly Argentine – Spanish
Barcelona’s Teatro Tívoli – sold out.
Madrid’s Teatros del Canal (Oct 21st – Nov 15th) from €25
Valencia’s Teatro Olympia (Nov 18th – Dec 6th) from €35 – 25% discount Wed & Thurs.