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A protocol for Ibsen’s works

Carlos Celdran teatroWhen director Carlos Celdrán, one of the essential figures of contemporary Cuban theater, and talented young playwright Abel González-Melo, who continues to find success both in Cuba and abroad, announce a new work, it is sure to be an excellent proposal – a prime example being their recently premiered play Protocolo.

The theatre space located on the corner of the streets Ayestarán and 20 de Mayo, now too small for Celdrán’s Argos Theater company, was once again filled by an audience familiar with every one of his singular productions, and as on every occasion, left thoroughly satisfied.

Protocolo is a rework of Henrik Ibsen’s original An enemy of the people, written especially for Spanish actors Ernesto Arias and Paloma Zavala, who traveled to Havana for the premier (five performances followed by a European tour).

Ernesto Arias, with an extensive professional resume ranging from theater to cinema and television, and Paloma Zavala, artistic director of the Crossing Stages project (also director of Las mujeres sabias, based on a work by Molière), are visiting Cuba for the first time, invited by the National Performing Arts Council and Cuban delegation to the International Theater Institute (ITI) of which Celdrán is President, with the support of the Spanish Embassy.

Both Arias and Zavala are familiar with the works of González-Melo and Celdrán’s meticulous directorial style, having debuted another of their pieces Chamaco, which met with great public acclaim in Madrid.

Playwright Abel González-Melo (left) and director Carlos Celdrán. Photo: Yeandro Tamayo
Once again Celdrán does a superb job of directing the actors. Both permanently positioned center stage, their outstanding and flawless performances transmitting – through both vocal tone and delivery – conflicting emotions, passions, fears and messages.

Protocolo is a minimalist work, with just the essential staging components, coherent in its simplicity. The hour-and-a-half long performance flies by.

González-Melo’s Protocolo focuses on the story of a modern-day Spanish couple, immersed in the contradictions of contemporary society. The piece is structured around 10 key moments, “a Decalogue of protocol rules.” (Speak when spoken to, acknowledge differences, enjoy yourself more but don’t over do it, don’t give too much away, back down although you don’t want to, remain calm, promise to do whatever necessary, trust just enough, always wash your hands and always keep one card up your sleeve).

Celdrán’s characteristic staging style is present in this new production as he achieves his goal of creating a clear and sharp dialogue with the present; the work of an experienced director with a precise vision.

Discussing Protocolo with both the author and director prior to the premier, I spoke first to González-Melo.

Why did you return to Ibsen for this production?
In regards to Protocolo specifically, we had recently worked with Celdrán on Mecánica, based on A doll’s house by Ibsen. It is based on another work by Ibsen, An enemy of the people, which features 10 characters, but this version is centered on a married couple and despite being set outside of Cuba includes issues present in Mecánica, such as marital relationships, betrayal, and corruption, in this case set against the backdrop of Spanish society. So, we are back with Protocolo, very freely interpreted.

This time the story is focused on Spain’s current situation, the hysteria that erupted when Ebola was believed to have arrived to Europe from Africa and how a couple can remain faithful to each other. I also changed it so thatStockman is no longer Ibsen’s romantic hero; he is no longer the person who reveals the truth no matter what, now he has other considerations, a new lifestyle to which he has become accustomed, and believing himself to be the master of his own destiny. That’s my vision, a rereading and homage to Ibsen.”

What other plans do you have 2016?

I hope that we will see,in Cuba by the middle of the year, Epopeya, directed by Aguijón Theater’s Sandor Menéndez and Virgilio Piñera prize winner, premiered on January 22, in Chicago, with Pedro Franco’s El Portazo project. I am currently working on a production provisionally called Intemperie. This year I’m resident playwright at Home Manchester,one of the UK’s most important theaters and will be working directly with director Walter Meierjohann. I am writing a piece which takes place in two different eras, 1993-94 and 2015-16, with characters from two generations.

Speaking to Celdrán who has received 16 Critics Awards and eight Prizes from the Performing Arts Association of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), he begins by talking about his company, Argos Theater, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

How would you sum up these last two decades?
Celebrating 20 years in theater isn’t easy; it’s a long journey on which you discover your own language, space, audience, to whom you are theatrically speaking. On many occasions I have had to forget everything I have learned in order to re-learn, to continuously re-invent myself. It has been a steep learning curve to finally get here; one full of mistakes, blunders, and achievements. I’m very happy that we are still here making innovative theater for the public.

Prólogo isn’t a new work for you after your 2006 play Stockman, enemigo del pueblo, an important piece which also won the Critics Award. How did you approach this new project, and what was your focus?

Enemigo del pueblo was one of Argos Theater’s most important productions and continues to be one of the best examples of my work. When Abel told me he was going to do a version I almost died because it’s a seminal piece which the public saw and remembers. The interesting thing about this version is its modern setting, in Spain. Remember Abel also has a tendency to create works set in Spain because he lives in both countries. I have also worked a lot over there and feel the need for an in-depth conversation with this reality.

The piece touches on some of Spain’s main problems, its crisis of power, economy, corruption, the ruling classes and politics. Beyond the work Enemigo del pueblo itself, what interested me was Abel’s contemporary reflection on Spain. Also, the fact that it is written for two Spanish actors whom I love very dearly: Ernesto Arias, perhaps one of the finest Spanish theater actors of the moment, and Paloma Zavala a talented and intelligent young actress.

The work addresses universal problems…
Yes, they are universal issues and this is Ibsen’s contribution, the couple’s marital problems, their lies and deceit triggered by their own actions.

What can you tell us about your debut work as a playwright?
It’s called Diez millones. It was a text I wrote several years ago. I presented it in the Virgilio Piñera scriptwriting competition and received an honorable mention. This encouraged me to consider taking it to the stage. I was always unsure whether or not to do so because it’s not exactly a theatrical text in the traditional sense, but rather a narrative text where the characters tell stories. Its autobiographical, it talks about my relationship with my parents when I was a teenager and the moments which marked my personal and social life, given significant social events which occurred in the late 1960s, 70s and early 80s, important years in Cuba’s recent history. This is what the story is about, my personal relationship to those events and their impact on all facets of my life. It is scheduled for June with four Argos actors, Caleb Casas, Daniel Romero, Maridelmys and Waldo Franco.

Carlos Celdrán and Abel González-Melo have created a truly contemporaryprotocol for Ibsen’s works.


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