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Reviewed by:
  • El actor borbónico (1700–1831) by Joaquín Álvarez Barrientos
  • Scott Dale

Scott Dale, Joaquín Álvarez Barrientos, Theater, Teatro, Spain, España, Actor, Comedia, Drama, 18th-Century, 19th-Century, Spectator, Espectáculo, Cómicos, Borbón, Plays, Ilustración, Francisco Mariano Nifo, Declamación

álvarez barrientos, joaquín. El actor borbónico (1700–1831).
Publicaciones de la Asociación de Directores de Escena de España, 2019. 510 pp.

Joaquín Álvarez Barrientos has published an invaluable volume for all Hispanists interested in the evolution of the modern Spanish actor from the beginnings of the 18th century until the creation of the Real Escuela de Declamación in 1831. As expected, Álvarez Barrientos writes as an informed and eloquent storyteller [End Page 529] with understated clarity. (It is not surprising that the author quotes Ortega y Gasset in one of his epigraphs: “La claridad es la cortesía del filósofo” [9].) The author gives his readers insight into what 18th-century theatrical culture must have really been like in Spain and how actors developed into meaningful cultural mediators. This engaging page-turner helps us understand how the modern Spanish actor became socially relevant and useful as a transmitter of 18th-century values and culture.

The 510-page historiography, which forms part of the 42-volume Teoría y práctica del teatro series by Publicaciones de la Asociación de Directores de Escena de España, is immensely useful for specialists in the Spanish theater of the long 18th century. In addition to the author’s detailed historical and textual analysis, the 3-chapter volume also includes a concise 15-page Introducción, comprehensive 36-page Bibliografía, 27 illustrations (with their own subindex) and an 18-page onomastic and title index.

Álvarez Barrientos begins by underscoring how difficult it is to examine the nuanced attitudes, corporal gestures, public reputation, and personal opinions of the 18th-century Spanish actor, especially the experiences of the cómicos during the first half of the century. Before the appearance of the first theatrical press reviews, epitaphs, translations, and other literary publications, most notably those by the underappreciated Francisco Mariano Nifo beginning in the 1760s, the Spanish actor remained relatively enigmatic (13). Due to a lack of reliable testimony and detailed records of actor performances or off-stage attitudes, it is difficult to demonstrate that actors (following the success of well-defined picaresque characters) had any sense themselves of a clearly defined artistic or aesthetic style. As the author claims in his Introducción, “el actor, cuyo trabajo, en época de la que no quedan testimonios fidedignos, se pierde” (11).

The Bourbon-era actor was, at the same time, capable of entertaining and transmitting useful didactic messages, as well as conveying perspectives pertaining to cultural values, religion, fashion, language usage, and social conduct (13–20). In fact, many late-18th-century Spanish actors eventually evolved into meaningful cultural mediators within the context of reformative and patriotic discourses, while others remained confined within a more traditionalist framework (17). While some literary figures of the period argued that many of these actors echoed the values and characteristics of a “Spanish National Theater,” many 19th-century figures such as Larra, Mesonero Romanos, and Ochoa questioned the mere existence of any such patriotic genre. Throughout his monograph, Álvarez Barrientos deftly studies the role of the Bourbon-era actor in relation to interpretive, imaginary, social, and theatrical tradition, without losing sight of the place of the actor within the European context and in relationship to French theater (19).

In the book’s opening chapter, “Público y actor en la sociedad del espectáculo,” Álvarez Barrientos examines the growing importance of reformed theater architecture, [End Page 530] urban spaces in late-18th-century Spain, theaters’ playwright rivalries, actor reputation and fame, the evolving role and opinion of theater-goers, theater advertising and reviews; in short, the beginnings of a modernized and progressive Spanish theater culture. One of the more important observations that the author reiterates in this opening section is the symbolic presence of the refurbished and reconceived theater in civic spaces; the reimagined 18th-century...


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pp. 529-532
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