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  • Chamizal 2011
  • Anna-Lisa Halling

The 2011 celebration of the Siglo de Oro Drama Festival, held annually in El Paso, Texas, at the Chamizal National Memorial, included works performed in both Spanish and English. The companies who presented these plays consisted of both students and professionals from Spain, Mexico, and the United States, and the plays themselves ranged from more traditional comedias, both in the original language and in translation, to an adaptation of one of the most beloved novels of all time. The festival ran from March 2 to March 5, 2011, and provided the audience with a wide variety of theatrical experiences. The following reviews, written by six different reviewers, evidence this variety and reflect the experience of a festival that strives to make early modern Spanish drama accessible to a highly diverse audience.

Jazz Club Polonia

On March 2, 2011, the first play of the Siglo de Oro Drama Festival, Jazz Club Polonia, directed by Jesús Manchón, performed a new rendition of Calderón’s renowned La vida es sueño at the Chamizal National Memorial. Presented by EdeStreno, a group from Extremadura, Spain, the work differentiated itself in several ways from the original version. While recognizable through its central characters—a gullible king, a contemptible son, a relentless dama—and similar plot structure, the play distanced itself from the original in its unique setting, the form of Segismundo’s incarceration, and some strange character choices, particularly an inexplicably hermaphroditic Astolfo.

Utilizing a rather simple set design, the beginning of the play consists of a dark, smoky room that spills out onto the stage, while a dusty bar with several unoccupied stools stands opposite a closed grand piano. Evidently worse-for-wear, a plastered drunk (who turns out to be a drugged Segismundo) lies with his face down, arms crossed, over the top of the piano. The barkeep frequently looks out into the audience, forlorn as he polishes his countertop. Over the depressing scene radiates an incandescent glow from the neon sign “Jazz Club Polonia.” At the far left of the stage lies a makeshift jail cell, later used to hold a violent Segismundo. The separation between these two stage elements, the bar and the prison, splits the spectator’s attention and relegates the protagonist to a remote corner of the stage during his famous soliloquy. The great distance [End Page 161] between these two critical stage components creates a difficult situation for the spectator who, torn between gazing at the jail cell or the bar, must choose where to place his or her focus. Inasmuch as the odd set design confuses the viewer, so does the title of the work.

The play’s title, as becomes apparent after the drama unfolds, has little to do with what is actually heard. At a nightclub named “Jazz Club Polonia,” one would expect to hear some jazz at one point or another during the show. Lamentably, the only detectable musical pieces consist of a strange tune played by Clotaldo while speaking with Basilio, as well as a final piece, performed by Astolfo at the very end of the work. Neither composition quite fits the jazz medium, creating an unfortunate discrepancy between the title of the play and its musical content.

As for the actual plotline, it loosely follows the story of the original work. In Vito Corleone fashion, Basilio runs a crime ring out of his club with his right-hand man Clotaldo, servant Clarín, and oddly androgynous nephew, Astolfo. Successful to a fault, Basilio’s only regret, as revealed after a drawn-out monologue, is his obsession with becoming a criacuervos—a victim of Segismundo’s ingratitude—causing him to keep his only son oblivious to his birthright with a stupefying mixture of booze and morphine. Segismundo’s drug addiction metaphorically connects with Calderón’s jail-like tower, only instead of containing an inconsolable prisoner, Jazz Club Polonia portrays a hungover junkie. Strewn over the top of a piano, Segismundo’s comatose state endures for more than thirty-five minutes. I question EdeStreno’s decision to leave Segismundo in the middle of the stage, drugged and apparently snoozing, for such a long period of...


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