Murder as Social Ritual

Review of Crónica de una muerte anunciada

A Play in One Act

Adapted by Fabio Rubiano
Conceived & Directed by Jorge Alí Triana
Music by Ricardo Jaramillo
Starring Juan Sebastian Aragón, Selenis Leiva, Donald López, Francisco Martinez, Iván Espeche.

Repertorio Español, December 12, 1999.

Review by Allen B. Ruch of Macondo

The first thing you notice is the poster -- a man's naked body, starkly drawn across a blood-red field, a butcher's knife as a savage phallus. It's an unsettling image, one that combines powerful masculinity with brute force. It's an appropriate symbol to represent a play that centers on a passionate murder, a murder ignited by an explosive mixture of wounded honor, rampant machismo, and communal enabling.
Readers of Gabriel García Márquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold may be familiar with the basic plot of this excellent adaptation, which was approved by García Márquez himself. Forced to marry the arrogant but wealthy Bayardo San Román, the lovely Angela Vicario is returned to her mother the night after their wedding, after her new husband discovers that she is not a virgin. Humiliated, and beaten by her mother, she reveals the name of her lover -- Santiago Nasar. Infuriated and inflamed by shameful dishonor, her twin brothers, Pedro and Pablo, pick up their butcher knives and begin a surreal quest to kill young Santiago. On the way they encounter many villagers, from the mayor to the town whore, all of whom react differently to the their openly proclaimed mission. Some urge them on, some try to get them falling-down drunk, and others just shake their heads and imagine they'll run out of steam. Finally they encounter the doomed Santiago and stab him to death outside the home of his mother.
The play follows the same non-linear narrative as the novel, but Jorge Alí Triana has done much more than simply relocate the characters and plot to the stage. Triana, who has worked with García Márquez on other projects, takes a free hand in adapting the story, removing it from the journalistic prose of the novel and reshaping it to suit the unique advantages of theater. Under Triana's direction, the tale becomes a ballet of music, language, and constant motion; a complex ritual of violence, humor and passion where characters not only act, but comment upon the action itself like a built-in Greek chorus. The plot unfolds in a succession of spirals and flashbacks: from the very beginning we know the outcome of the story, and each cycle of "retelling" opens up additional connections and explanations. The play also ingeniously moves from symbolism to greater realism with each cycle. It starts almost in the spirit of kabuki, the assembled cast ritualistically miming their actions until Santiago appears, naked and terrified, a very human figure receiving little succor from the remote ensemble. By the next, more detailed retelling, we hear the events chanted out by the cast, their voices trading lines of song as they move through the events like the gears of an inexorable machine. Eventually we see more facts emerge, and slowly the drama gathers momentum as personalities solidify and events merely told are now acted out, each character revealing their role in the sad tale. It is a difficult task to keep all this afloat, and the company succeeds admirably. Many of the actors have more than one role, and the degree of fluidly with which they keep the momentum going as they move from scene to scene is quite remarkable. The sung passages are also very striking, adding a level of dramatic pathos that sharply sets off the frequent black humor of the dialogue.
Individual scenes become more important as the play progresses, and are all cleverly designed and skillfully executed. Particularly memorable is the pivotal wedding night scene, where the bed itself is canted towards the audience. Like that fateful night itself, it slides the lovers slowly but unhaltingly down to meet their fate, setting in action the chain of events that ends in Santiago's death.
And what a death it is. Though we've heard the event described, and even seen it in miniature, repetition drains none of the shock and horror from the murder that closes the play. Indeed, by that point, it's attained an almost mythical status, a center of gravity pulling the whole drama towards it's ineluctable conclusion. It is a suitably brutal slaying, made all the more terrible by the actions of Santiago's mother, and all the more pitiful by the Vicario brothers, who suddenly seem like tragic figures themselves as they drop their knives, horrified by their own drunken violence.
In the end we are left with no sense of closure or justice; seeing the Vicarios reduced to sobbing boys even robs us of the grim satisfaction of despising the murderers. There is merely what the title promised -- a chronicle of stupidity, misjudgments, and misspent passion; and one death, a death that has "never been more foretold."

Crónica is a complex and difficult piece to stage, but everything came together wonderfully: the lights, costumes, sets, and of course the tight direction, which made very good use of the entire house as well as the small stage. The actors were all confident, rising to the challenge superbly. Dressed in an immaculate white suit and having face of an angel, Juan Sebastian Aragón's Santiago possessed the perfect balance of qualities that made him likeable without being a saint, pitiable without being pathetic: an easy charm that almost neared indolence, and a boyish innocence that just courted aloofness. Selenis Leiva played a likewise complex Angela, giving a nuanced performance as a young woman whose external bravado hides a certain degree of weakness and even irresponsibility. The Vicario brothers were played by Donald López and Francisco Martinez. Dressed identically in flashy suits and crowned by oily manes of long black curls, they radiated a theatrical menace born from a hot-blooded lower-class machismo. It certainly would have been easy to play these two as simple hoodlums, but both actors brought a sense of humanity to the role -- these were two pig butchers, certainly rough fellows, but more victims of their socially-fostered sense of machismo than harboring any real homicidal tendencies. Iván Espeche had two roles -- as Bayardo San Román, he was a stiff, uncompromising rancher with more money than love; but he also played a clown, one of the townsfolk who offered wry commentary upon the events. Carlos Linares played the mayor to perfection, a tired public figure who knows the town perhaps too well, more content with smoothing over situations than with actually assuming the full responsibility of authority. The Padre, too, was ineffectual in his office, and Alberto Morgan added a note of unctuous vacuity that seemed to reflect the town's spiritual condition. And a final word of praise to the whole ensemble, with their multiple roles and extra duty as the chorus: they were at the heart of Crónica, and really brought its tropical town to dazzling life.

--Allen B. Ruch,
15 December 1999

Additional Information

Repertorio Español is located on East 27th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. Upcoming performances of Crónica are scheduled throughout 2003; you may check the Repertorio Calendar here. Tickets are between $15-$30 and may be ordered by calling (212) 889-2850.

The Repertorio Español Web site has a page about Crónica here, where you can look up details and order tickets.

Crónica received a positive review in the June 15, 1999 Village Voice.