Theater 33.2 (2003) 62-63
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The Children are the Angels Here
Nilo Cruz, interviewed by Erika Munk
ERIKA MUNK Márquez wrote A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings as a children's story, but it is extremely grim. What made you want to turn it into a play? And how did you arrive at this complex but ultimately optimistic version, full of light and color?
NILO CRUZ Peter Brosius was interested in adaptations, and we both share the same love for Márquez. I remember being so taken by this angel who ends up in a chicken coop. And he happened to like it too. But I thought, it's very dark. Then I remembered as a child in Cuba, my mother telling me a fairy tale that shocked me, about a woman giving birth and a snake who stole her milk so the baby got sick—it had to do with Adam and Eve. So the Márquez made sense to me coming from where I'm coming from, where stories are not very light.
Tell me about the changes you made.
I felt that for an audience of seven- to ten-year-olds, the story needed to be seen through the eyes of children. I added the two main child characters and made them instrumental. They're the ones who bring him back to life, who rehabilitate him. The children are the angels here. They're the ones who really perform a miracle for this man who is supposed to be an angel. When children saw the play, they realized they could take action and could actually be angels. That they could save situations, animals, people.
And they could also modify the bad behavior of adults.
Absolutely. Adults are constantly modifying the behavior of children, and I thought we should look from a different perspective.
You make the story much kinder.
There's a lot of kindness in my work as an artist, period. If I were to be a painter, my paintings would probably look like Chagall, with those colors. He liked magic, too.
The story has some sharp satire of the Church. Why did you take it out?
I had heard that story already, the Church against people of poverty. And I've seen enough stories dealing with colonialism, where the Church is at the center. I wanted to focus on the poor people in this village, especially this family and what they ended up doing because they really felt they had to.
And how the children change that.
Absolutely. It has a lot to do with, again, my own upbringing. I come from a country that is still not allowing Bibles, where people have to be very inventive in order to survive. If you have a cup and its handle breaks, then you make a dish out of it, or a glass. That's not just Cuba, I've seen that happen in many Third World countries. [End Page 62]
You did keep the baby.
The baby is sick through the whole play. By the end, you realize that the angel, once he leaves, had finally created a miracle, and the baby is well again. The woman who had been quiet for ten years—I think I invented her. I took into consideration aspects of Márquez's other work. I begin almost the same way One Hundred Years of Solitude begins, in this isolated place.
The landscape and cast are much richer and more varied, however.
I wanted to celebrate the people more. And I never wanted to judge the family. In their own way, they felt that they were doing their best, because they're so poor. And, again, if you're given an angel, what do you do with the angel?
Were these decisions political, based on where the play was being done and for whom?
Quite political. Living under the poverty that these people live, of course they have to do whatever they can to make it work. It's exactly the same thing that happens in my country. Here's this system that wants...