A journal of turn-of-the-century theatre

Issue 3 - Winter 2011/12

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ISSN 2045-1024


Daniel Veronese’s Los hijos se han dormido. A version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in Buenos Aires by Fernando Pagnoni.

In January 2011, the official theatre of Argentina, General San Martin Theatre, offered a retrospective of one of the most original and committed authors in the country: Daniel Veronese. Audiences could see Mujeres soñaron caballos; Espía a una mujer que se mata (a version of Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov); El desarrollo de la civilización venidera (version of A Doll’s House of Henrik Ibsen); and Todos los gobiernos han evitado el teatro íntimo, version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

This opportunity to see several adaptations of Veronese’s work -two per day -  allowed the audience to find corresponding links between one production and other. For example, the position of the actors at the end of Mujeres soñaron caballos was the same as Espía a una mujer que se mata, simply featuring different actors, as the play opened but establishing a relationship between the two shows. The stage set of Todos los gobiernos han evitado el teatro íntimo is the same as that of El desarrollo de la civilización venidera, and thus there is a sense of realistic connection between the two plays which resonates through Nora’s lines "Do you like my house?”  It is like A Doll’s House". Such playing of self-referential and metatheatrical games become clear in such a retrospective.

In the same theatre, the latest work of Veronese, Los hijos se han dormido (The children have fallen asleep), a version of Chekhov’s The seagull, continues Veronese’s free adaptations of a cycle of classical authors and this production opens in August.

Chekhov’s drama deepens the clash between two of  theatre and drama’s classic conceptions, representing two ways to understand the world. Veronese portrays the relationship that parents maintain towards their children, a love-hate relationship that finds its analogy in the dramatic clash of two visions and conceptions of theatre: one that believes in neo-classical forms that articulate (and suffocate) the play and another rougher, but visceral that liberates the work.

Veronese’s adaptation begins with the actors sitting around a table. The actors are already seated when the audience enter the auditorium and take their seats -  a very common device in Veronese’s theatrical aesthetics. When audience is seated, one of the actors (or is he already a character?) asks the audience to turn off their cell phones and to unwrap their candies immediately to avoid noise later during the performance. They, the actors, could wait until everything is ready, he says. The audience laughs and obeys – a humorous way to make a necessary announcement.

That simple and playful moment of amusing connection between the audience and the production condenses the approach and style of Veronese. An intimate theatrical experience -so present in the title of his version of Hedda Gabler- as opposed to a "spectacular" theatre, is the ultimate aim of Veronese. Only in a close connection with the audience while limiting “showy effects”(for example, or scenography, lighting, sound or indeed acting performances), could the play approach the essence of the human experience and say something significant about humanity. As Veronese points out in the playbill: "I still tend to think of the utopian and cleansing function of creation and of man's positive attitude in connection with that creation. Maybe from there my obsession is to bring it that connection nearer, to join seemingly unrelated worlds together" (my own translation). Veronese has here made a declaration of  his principles. On one hand, he notes his "obsession" with returning to certain subjects and styles - the recycling of scenographies of his own works or other people's works, for example -, but also speaks of the need to seek "therapeutic" elements in the artistic creation. It is not coincidence that great part of the play’s story revolves around artists trying to find their own voice in the world of art and literature.

Konstantin Treplev (Fernán Mirás) for example, is immersed in his personal quest for a new theatre, to create ‘live’ vibrant drama, as far removed as possible from the ossified conventional performances of his successful mother Irina Arkadina (María Onetto), while the lead actress of Konstantin, Nina Sarechnaia (María Figueras) seeks not only her artistic identity, but also love in such a sublime artistic creation, therefore rejecting Konstantin’s love to turn fully toward Irina’s lover, Boris Trigorin (Osmar Núñez), a successful writer.

The playbill points out another of Veronese’s beliefs: "Though the well-known drama settles as a new neighbour...It will always be the new presentation of an old problem." To make the well-known drama new again and to present a classic story in a intriguing way that compels the viewer to pay attention to both the old and the new work is another of Veronese’s obsessions. Some characters have changed sex and there are some new characters in his adaptations. Veronese’s work also reveals the theatrical artifice in realist dramas and show that even though the plays were realistic, they were nevertheless poetic. Veronese’s plays that the aesthetic and theatrical problem of the realist poetic drama remains a contextual and historical problem, and we must always strive to find new questions in yesterday’s plays.

Like the others works in Veronese’s cycle, Los hijos se han dormido begins with several characters already on stage speaking at the same time of different topics. The relationships between them are not clear from the outset and the audience must work to unravel the web of relationships and situations that unfold before his/her eyes. The performances are brilliant in their ambivalence: behind an ascetic realism can be found farcical elements which function as a self-referential pointing towards the actor’s performances. Then, within the performance itself, there is a constant tension between canonical realism / postmodernism, a dichotomy that dominates Veronese’s adaptation  on many levels (the use of realistic performances in a contracted time and space, for example). A particularly false seagull reveals her power as theatrical symbol in her clash with a small but functional and realistic stage set.

What remains of the original Chekhov plays? The story is there, but his classic pauses are changed by a fast pace of the comings and goings characters on and off stage. The fragility of human relationships remains, but with its meanings exploded to provide new questions for our times.

The classics in the hands of Daniel Veronese allows two theatrical aesthetics to coexist, questioning each other and finally revealing themselves as a brand new theatrical style. As an audience we see this fruitful dialogue in form of "free version" of Chekhov that raises questions about the role of theater and its relationship to the human condition.

Simón Semionovich Medvedenko Claudio Da Passano
Nina Sarechnaia Maria Figueras
Polina Andreevna Berta Gagliano
Mascha Ana Garibaldi
Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev Fernán Mirás
Boris Alekseevich Trigorin Osmar Nuñez
Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina María Onetto
Evguenil Serguevich Dorn Carlos Portaluppi
Piotr Nikolaevich Sorin Roly Serrano
Ilia Schamraev Marcelo Subiotto

Text and Direction, Daniel Veronese
Direction assistant, Felicitas Luna
Wardrobe, Valeria Cook
Illumination, Daniel Veronese, Sebastián Blutrach
Scenography, Alberto Negrín

Premiered at the San Martin Theatre (Buenos Aires) on July 6, 2011.