Dallas — Adaptations offer an opportunity of bringing classical works to contemporary audiences. El Cerco de Numancia/The Siege of Numantia (1585, Spain) written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavadra, the emblematic father of the novel that ushered in literary modernity, Don Quixote, bespeaks of the plight of the ancient people of Numancia just as it does today of the people of Syria.
This is what director and adaptor Cora Cardona has done with this story of conquest, resistance, and loss, for the annual Days of the Dead production at Teatro Dallas. Historically, Numancia, an ancient city in north-central Spain, represents an absolute rejection against the Roman conquest. The Numantinos resisted Rome for 18 years, until 134 B.C. when Escipión, a despotic general known for his degenerate army put an end to the resistance by cutting off the food supply. Rather than surrender, the Numantinos chose another option rather than slavery.
Cardona’s mise en scène opens with large-scale color projections of the ravaged men, women and children of war-torn Syria, cluing the audience of the analogy to be drawn between a former and the present imperialist political struggles and their consequences in human terms. The projections also mark the passing of time, which includes a stunning solar eclipse.
The costumes are a contemporary mix of grungy jeans with a hint of the Middle East through the use of the keffiyeh head scarf, with the Roman military dressed in a generic black coat, with medals on the lapel, reminiscent of Nazi Germany (costumes: Omar Padilla, Cora Cardona, Michael Robinson and Israel Shalkour). Thus the analogy is clearly drawn between the Spanish language rendition of Cervantes’ tragedy and contemporary Syria. And, while Cervantes’ play ran three hours, Cardona’s runs a reasonable 75 minutes. The original cast of characters consisted of 26; this version is pared down to 12, while introducing a new character, ravaged Mother Earth (Marbella Barreto), thus slipping in an ecological message.
As has become customary with Teatro Dallas, the intimate stage capitalizes upon the vertical space to give a sense of expanse, in this case, walls and towers draw the circle around the city (Nick Brethauer, set design). The piece counts with a varied musical and soundscapes ranging from Ancient Roman music and Tibetan sounds to an original piece by Michael Gómez, and lovely singing by actor Omar Padilla. Lighting is by Jeff Hurst.
As may be discerned, this play is an ensemble piece. Cardona brings back a talented cadre of actors such as Ignacio Luján (as the malevolent Escipión), Omar Padilla (as the noble Marandro), Marbella Barreto (as the valiant Milbia), Sorany Gutiérrez (as Lira Marandro’s love), Sixto Orellana as Jugurtha, Carlos Ayala as Teógenes, Leticia Alaniz as his wife, the young Nicole Sánchez as their daughter, Enrique Arellano as Leonicio, Ninoshka Martínez as Cayo, Fernando Lara as Mario, and Armando Villafuerte as the Gravedigger. No one actor outshines the other, keeping with energy of the overall ensemble, while obviously some have a larger speaking part than others (Milbia, Escipión, Marandro, Teógenes, Teógenes’s wife).
While most of the ensemble members are native Spanish speakers from various Latin American countries, they do the text justice by inflecting a neutral accent, unidentifiable to any particular region. Only on the occasion—usually when agitated action is coupled with speech—do the words of certain actors become unintelligible due to the fact that Spanish is obviously not their native tongue. But that issue was minimal. English speakers are provided with an English libretto so they can read the general plot as the action unfolds.
The piece straddles between the classical language of Spain’s Siglo de Oro (Golden Age, approximately 1492-1659) and contemporary gestures and actions. Thus the hybrid representational style takes liberty with morality both ancient and Muslim (the parting scene between Marandro and Lira has them laying on the floor kissing and nearly making love in plain view). In conversation after the show, Cardona insisted that she wanted to show the timelessness of their humanity, which includes sexual desire, particularly in times of pending death.
This timeless piece draws our attention to the cost of human lives provoked the impulse towards empire and conquest. At the end of the performance Anne-Marie Weiss, president of DFW International, made a brief presentation about the plight of Syrian and other refugees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, driving the point home that the consequences of wars are in our own backyards.
For Spanish speakers, here's a quick synopsis of the show:
El Cerco de Numancia (1585) obra escrita por el emblemático padre de la novela moderna, Miguel de Cervantes y su Don Quijote, es representada en adaptación de Cora Cardona, directora de Teatro Dallas. La puesta en escena mezcla el bello lenguaje cervantino dentro de un contexto social contemporáneo, marcando un paralelismo entre las consecuencias de las invasiones y conquistas mundiales, señalando la situación trágica de Siria en nuestros tiempos. Los vestuarios y proyecciones visuales aluden claramente a esta intertextualidad social entre el pasado y el presente. Los numantinos resistieron la ocupación romana por 18 años hasta el 134 a.C., cuando el cerco pone fin a su resistencia, frente al cual los numantinos optan otra cosa en vez de la esclavitud. Esta obra es tan relevante hoy como en antaño.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater in the Departments of Spanish and Dance and Theater at the University of North Texas. She is a member of the Latina/o Theater Commons.