The world premiere of Paloma Negra (Black Dove) by Alberto Conejero at the Theatre of the Canal last February was greeted with great anticipation. Conejero, who is the playwright and director, has a great reputation. His previous shows featured recognizable cast members and have earned many excellent reviews.
The plot is based on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. An older actress, her lover who is a famous, younger playwright, and her son who wants to be an artist, are in a country house far from the capital. They are on vacation. They meet people who live in the area; some are friends, other are servants or could be newcomers.
However, instead of being in rural Russia in the 19th century, they are in a Mexican desert in the 1960s. They are from Spain, but left due to the Civil War. Though they are exiled, Madrid, where they lived before emigrating, is always in their thoughts and conversations just as Chekhov’s characters in The Seagull are always talking about Moscow. Subsequently, the metropolis becomes a long-distance reference, a place where they could not return.
There is also a love affair. The boyfriend of the actress falls in love with a young woman who is the girlfriend of the son of the actress. This young woman also falls in love with the playwright. The tricky relationship between them all becomes a complicated drama with Mexican flavor, an Indigenous Mexican dialect, clothes, expressions, and music. However, nothing more is changed in this version of Chekov’s play. Consequently, a question raised: should Chekov’s play be re-written? What is the motivation to do it? Why set it in Mexico?
Conejero has a great interest in the Civil War and postwar people who fought against fascism in Spain. His first big theatrical success was La Piedra Oscura (Dark Stone) about the friendship of a Civil War prisoner who was Lorca’s partner and his young jailer.
In all of his plays, Conejero attempts to show how to deal with the social fracture that civil war causes. How can a society continue after people of the same nationality have been fighting and killing each other? What are the relationships between the winners and the losers? How do the losers carry on with their lives? How can they deal with people who are no longer in their lives anymore?
This is the context of his re-writing of The Seagull – the play was turned into the story of a group of exiled Spaniards. This context lets the playwright imagine how the characters deal with being far from their hometown of Madrid. In addition, he considers what happens to their children who left their country as babies and grew up in a different culture. Mexico and Spain share the same language, but there are many other differences between them, from the food to the customs and traditions.
Placing Chekhov’s play in Mexico lets him explore a distance that is necessary to show Spanish audiences that life was not easy for people who had to leave the country for political reasons. In addition, he explores the complexity of their children not knowing which country they belong to. Are they from the place where they grew up, or the place that they were born, or their parents were born?
Just as the countryside is used by the Russian playwright, the Mexican desert is also a metaphor. The apparently natural place where life is not easy nor glamorous is a place where melancholy is understood as a way of life. Everyone in the desert is missing someone or something far away. They are separated from the big cities and countries that do not exist anymore and places where nobody is waiting for them. Those places become myths that nourish their sadness and do not let people appreciate what they have nearby.
Most importantly, these ideas represent love. This subject is as important for Conejero as it is for Chekhov and the love affairs in The Seagull let him explore this topic in terms of the exiled. Is the love for locals the same as for those who came from abroad? Do they fall in love in the same way? Are exiled people more attractive than locals? Is the unknown more appealing?
In terms of what it is demonstrated on the stage, the answers to these questions are disappointing. People who are forced to leave their countries for political reasons hold onto their hometown as their main reference forever. They do not forget where they came from. It does not matter how they are treated in the new location.
Ultimately, true love does not seem to be directly related to the place where anybody was born or had to leave. It is about attraction, not companionship. Company is easier to find than love, but it is not enough for human beings. There are no nationalistic feelings about love just as there are no genders; it is a fluid concept.
This could be why the son of the actress becomes a successful romantic songwriter in Mexico. His Mexican girlfriend broke his heart, just as he broke the heart of the girl who was adopted by his mother, while she broke the heart of the best friend of the actress’ son. It is an infinite chain of heartbreakings that keeps people sadly alive.
Edited by Carrie Klewin Lawrence
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.