Augusto Boal, who wrote THE THEATRE OF THE OPPRESSED, has a wonderful anecdote about when he gave cameras to farmers in Peru and asked them to photograph their oppressor. One little boy took a picture of a nail. He explained that he was a shoeshine boy who lived in the mountains and had to come into the city to work. He carried a big box full of shoeshine materials and he had to rent a nail from a man in the city, so he could hang his box up instead of having to carry it back and forth. He had to pay for that nail, and to him, it was the oppressor. I love that story. I love how politics enters the world through something like a nail.
TWO SISTERS AND A PIANO is the most political play I’ve written. In my other plays, the politics operate in the periphery, but I wanted to bring politics into the center of things this time. The play was inspired by Maria Elena Cruz Varela, a Cuban writer who, influenced by perestroika in the Soviet Union, sent a manifesto to Castro, asking that Cuba embrace perestroika. She was imprisoned for two years, and later put under house arrest when the Pan American Games were held in Cuba, for fear of what she might say. My play is not really about Varela but I was fascinated by her story. I’ve never thought of myself as a political writer, and I have to admit that my feelings about the situation in my country are mixed. My young years in Cuba really shaped my life in many ways; I hated what the revolution did to my country—the militancy, the lack of liberty. But I also have a more adult perspective on it now. I see so many countries in South and Central America who look up to Castro still. I see the need for revolutions, the need for people to make up something of their own. We thought in Cuba it was going to be a democratic revolution. What I’m trying to say in all my plays is that the revolution got stuck somewhere. The world has changed.
In TWO SISTERS AND A PIANO, I’ve brought the oppressor onstage more than I have in the past and my main character, Maria Celia, finds herself involved with him in ways she didn’t expect. This brings a different kind of life into the play, and is something I want to investigate further. At the same time, my characters are always looking for a way to escape their reality, their oppressor. Maria Celia does it through her writing, and Sophia through her playing the piano. No matter how bad things are, they’re always finding a way of compensating. There’s a saying in Cuba, “no es facil” – “nothing is easy.” There’s something very positive in that. The people are not giving up. They’ll fight. They’ll survive. They embellish their reality—through humor, through music, through dancing, through their imagination.
There are two worlds in TWO SISTERS AND A PIANO. These people live and breathe, but there’s also a poetic landscape that has to do with their hopes and dreams. I used to shy away from the term “magic realism” to describe my work, but I don’t mind if the term helps critics accept a combination of domestic and poetic elements in my plays. When I read Marquez and a woman elevates to the sky as she dries sheets in the yard, I see it as a metaphor, but I believe there is a quality of magic in life. To me, that’s not strange, it’s poetic.
In my work in TWO SISTERS AND A PIANO, I’m interested now in how a director would approach the piece, how a director would tie those two worlds together. It’s not a well-made play. Time passes, realities change. Some scenes take place in the house and some on the roof, and sometimes they overlap. But does there need to be a roof? When the sisters talk about the story Maria Celia is writing about going to the sea, what if the sea entered the house? I would like Brian and I to look at the text and expand it in a theatrical way. I’m not talking about spectacle, but about poetry written on the stage. A little bit of magic is important.
Henry James once noted, “The Real is what we cannot know.” It is perhaps for this reason that I have always been somewhat suspect of the schools of Realism and Naturalism which suggest a picture of the world “as it is” when I always feel that there is something more, something “other,” something still missing from such representing. I have always longed for art to be cognition in another register, attentive to the infinite modalities of reality and varying degrees of being. It is such attentiveness that I find in the work of Nilo Cruz who shows me the teeming multiplicities of reality that at one moment can be magical and the next moment political. It is this shifting of vantage points from the prosaic to lyric, from the lyric to the polemical to the dreamlike that gives us a fuller sense of “be-in-the-world,” achieving what the poet Navalis asks of his creative peers, to create works that:
“Give sense to the vulgar,
Give mysteriousness to the common,
Give the dignity of the unknown to the obvious
And a trace of infinity to the temporal.”
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