How did you get into playwriting?
I was an actor at first. And it was enjoyable, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I was restless. And I was watching the other people involved–the director, the writer. So I tried different things and finally, I started writing plays. I showed my work to a lot of people at first–all of my friends, teachers, fellow actors–but then I started writing more for myself, and it became much easier for me to see what I really wanted my work to be.
Can you tell me a little bit about your newer projects?
It’s a melodrama, a tragic love triangle: a wealthy bridegroom, his cruel bride, and the humble housemaid who loves him. And I’m working on another play, a suspenseful drama.
Do you make many changes to the work in progress, during rehearsals or readthroughs?
Yes. I see the initial script as a premature version. It’s an important aspect of theatre, collaboration. When I write, it’s like I’m conveying my soul, a part of myself, like I’m creating something pure, bringing it forth out of my body almost. Then of course you show it to the actors, and they contribute. They bring their emotions and desires and fears to the work, and that does change the whole picture a little bit. The actors do have different ideas about the work, about their characters. So, yes, I make many modifications during the production process.
And, of course, there are a lot of compromises you have to make with the art form itself. If I have an idea that’s really out there, really fantastic–really elaborate, well, I don’t censor myself in the writing process. But then you have to bring all that back to earth–anchor it in the scene. Sometimes the idea is difficult to stage–sometimes it’s impossible. The challenge is to maintain the sense of the idea, the essential spirit.
You’ve also been doing some writing for television. Is that more difficult, adapting your ideas to this other medium?
I don’t know if it’s more difficult–it´s a new format. But it’s not really more complicated. The details are different–there are some visual aspects to writing a screenplay, a few things are more formalised, you have to decide a few more things. And the deadlines are different. You can spend as much time on a play as you like–keep it locked away for years, work on it in secret, tinker at it until it’s perfect–but you can’t do that with television. You have a deadline. People are waiting for you. The independence isn’t there. You have rules, requirements: a comedy, an apartment, four actors, two men and two women. I can write whatever kind of play I want, about whatever kind of situation I want. Television doesn’t usually offer that kind of license.
Theatre is more artisanal. The public completes the experience. It’s not like in the multiplex, where you come and sit back with your bucket of popcorn to stare up at the screen in awe. Each member of the audience can collaborate. They approve the work, they engage with it, or not. They have to buy in. Theatre was invented tens of thousands of years ago. We’ve invented any number of technologies to entertain ourselves — the radio arrived, movies arrived, television and the internet arrived, and people still gather in these little rooms to watch living actors give their speeches. Theatre is a ritual, a tradition.
Can you tell me a little more about your current play?
Well, there are some restrictions to the form. Some basic rules. There’s always a tragic love. There’s always a villain–in this case a villainess. This melodrama is about a marriage between two people from high society backgrounds–society darlings. The bridegroom falls in love with a poor housemaid. His bride is a real harpy. The formula is pretty standard–abuse of coincidence, hackneyed plot developments, secret sibling relationships. An epic in 50 minutes or less. The music is very important, too–there are dramatic sequences to announce the lovers, to announce their love, to introduce the venomous betrayer, to smooth everything out. I really enjoyed working with the actors through all of this. Melodrama requires a lot of careful work with the acting–it’s a delicate business, because the material has such dangerous potential. It’s so exuberantly emotional, so strongly put, that it requires a delicate touch. Too little investment and it’s boring. Too much and it feels ridiculous.
I liked having to respect basic rules. It was an interesting puzzle. The suspense play was the same way. That one was a little bit more complicated–the genre is more complex, more fluid. There’s a crime, usually a murder. How do you unmask the killer? There’s the list of suspects, the clues, the red herrings, the suspicions. The tension builds and builds and is finally resolved.
Your last play, ‘El baile del pollito’, is a much more contemporary, political work. What was its inspiration?
Well, I was listening to the Stones. Their music has always provoked a very strong response in me. I didn’t think too much about what I was writing, what I was trying to do. When I was writing the play, I wasn’t thinking to myself, I’m going to write a trenchant dark comedy about the conflict in the Malvinas and the lasting consequences of imperialism and militarism and Anglo-Argentine relations and the spiraling consequences of violence and blah blah blah. It was just…an idea.
I started with these two men, shut up together, talking about the beach. Then I heard that Prince Harry had visited, that he’d gone to a kiosk to buy chips or something, and I thought about what would happen if he got himself kidnapped by a couple of schmucks, and there I was. I wrote about it in intimate terms; I was writing primarily about these two men, their characters and their feelings. The Stones. The beach was another theme. The ocean surrounding them, the icy weather outside, and the warm Caribbean shores, blue water and warm air. That’s a theme for me, the beach. And, you know, you could look at it in Freudian terms–he wants to return to the womb, the warmth, the wet. But I don’t know, it just comes up.
Anything that surprised you as you were working?
It’s a way of looking at the world. Something natural. More naturally–the strange things that can happen to the characters as you tell the story, the things that can suddenly take place in the story. The sudden, unpredictable nature of violence. The song ended up being very prescient–”Love is just a kiss away, war is just a shot away. It’s all very near, in other words. The music itself is a little violence. It’s a threatening idea, that we’re a moment away from catastrophe.
I was writing about two Argentines–two different Argentines. One of them is an older man, a veteran, a working stiff. The other one is a callow kid, a kid who grew up with some money and comfort, a little soft and stupid, not serious. And then there’s the figure of the young prince, who never actually appears onstage. Captured, hurt, finally dying. The play is about the discussion between them, about this thing they’ve done together. The themes are their personalities. Their reactions. I had a teacher once who told me that a play is like the bonsai of a novel. Everything pared down. And that’s essential for me: you go from the small to the big. Always start small. Never write about the large themes first. Just the little people. Really, it’s a bit of a coping mechanism for me. I don’t have to deal with the big stuff. I can handle the small stuff.
I spent a lot of time looking for my vocation. I was thirty years old before I started writing. I loved the contact with the people, I loved the cooperative aspect of theatre, how you have to have a rapport with the audience in order to really create anything. To make things concrete. It’s a choice they make on behalf of your vision. And I see myself as continuing with this work–writing, teaching.
For me, it’s about having a question you can’t answer. A question maybe nobody can answer. That’s the creative impulse. To contribute something positive in return. It’s a relentless desire.