The last page of 20th century dramatic literature closes. One of the great dramatic authors of this country has died, perhaps the last great of a particularly turbulent century, as well as rich. It is true that there are still some live theater authors, as is the case of Antonio Gala, but either they are not exclusively dramatic authors, or the corpus of their work does not reach anywhere near the forcefulness of Sastre’s theatrical work.
Alfonso Sastre (1926-2021) was always an uncomfortable character and reviled for his ideological position. He was simply a man of integrity, something completely normal and even required in an artist but, unfortunately, very unusual.
He was accused of ideologically flirting with the left abertzale, something that, made from the field of ideas, does not presuppose any type of crime, or shadow of it.
Upon hearing the sad news of his death, I have thought that a character of such stature and integrity is leaving as surely there is no other left.
This idea reminds me of the old and familiar rivalry between Alfonso Sastre and Antonio Buero Vallejo (1916-2000) on account of their political position towards the dictatorship. Although Alfonso was directly and radically opposed to it, refusing to negotiate with the censorship, Buero Vallejo, in a more possible attitude (he himself used this term), did not hesitate to circumvent the censorship with greater or lesser success, adapting here and there , cutting here and there, to be able to premiere in the public theaters of the moment.
Upon receiving the news of his death, a journalist reminded me that I was the last stage director to edit his text. It was about Squad to death, in 2016 in a production of the National Dramatic Center then directed by Ernesto Caballero.
In the last five years, no one, no director, no public or private production center has tried to put together a text of hers. Why? Is Alfonso Sastre’s theater valid today?
It is surprising how, even today, the work of Alfonso Sastre is so little visited and released. In the last five years, no one, no director, no public or private production center has tried to put together a text of hers. Why? Is Alfonso Sastre’s theater valid today? Has time passed and will he remain as a playwright to read in libraries? My opinion is very clear about it: of course not. What happens with our author’s theater is that it is political theater in capital letters and it still raises blisters today. But friends, the theater will either be political or it won’t be. Or we challenge the viewer to make him reflect on the important issues that concern the cops or the theater will be destined to become entertainment. And it is worth remembering that the theater cannot compete in the field of entertainment with the immense amount of audiovisual offer. Nor is that his place. Its place is that of confrontation of ideas, that of reflection, that of provocation, that of meeting and reencounter. And in that Alfonso Sastre was a teacher.
When back in 2014 I proposed to Ernesto Caballero that I wanted to ride Squad to deathIt was clear to me that the work was current, I could challenge today’s viewer, but it needed an adaptation. This piece, released in 1953, is the daughter of its time, of the postwar period, of a century that, not yet reached its equator, had already suffered two world conflicts. What future did the human being have? What meaning could individual and collective existence have in the face of wars that had ravaged the planet? The human being was empty.
Alfonso Sastre presents on stage the last hours of the life of six soldiers, a military squad, under the command of a tyrant corporal, in front of an unknown and invincible enemy, in front of whom –and for various reasons– they will all end up perishing.
As a stage director, I wanted to slightly alter the ending, in which all the soldiers die according to the original piece by Tailor. I wanted to bring into the scene that ray of hope that tragedy needs so that it can define itself as such.
I must confess that I was afraid of Alfonso’s possible response. My surprise was capitalized when he told me “do what you want with the work. Be free”.
The stage manager’s work with living authors is almost always complex. My professional colleagues can corroborate it. Sometimes they want to impose on the staging their aesthetic or formal criteria that are already contained in the text, ignoring that a stage director is an interpreter, a reader who has to take that text and, as Lorca said, lift it from the book to make it human.
As a stage director I wanted to alter the ending, in which all the soldiers die according to the original piece by Sastre. I was afraid of Alfonso’s possible response. My surprise was capitalized when he told me “do what you want with the work. Be free”.
Alfonso’s generous and warm reaction was further proof that we were in front of an exceptional being, an author who launches his theater to the world, so that it can interpret it freely.
On the day of the premiere, back in October 2016, we raised the curtain on the same stage where the play was premiered 63 years earlier, by the company of the Popular University Theater. I insist, 63 years without this play being staged in a public theater in our country… Alfonso could not accompany us on such an important day since his health was delicate. But many of his friends and part of his family did join us.
Where he was able to see the performance was a few months later, already on tour, in Hondarribia. Alfonso was close, enthusiastic about the work of the cast and the entire team and fascinated by a staging that he described as “surprising”, assuming that it would never have occurred to him that this text could be put together like this.
What was really surprising about our tour, to the great sadness of all, was that some municipal theaters in Spanish cities did not want to represent the show precisely because of the uncomfortable position that Alfonso Sastre produced for them – even today! – for his ideas.
To the great sadness of all, some municipal theaters did not want to represent the show precisely because of the uncomfortable position that Alfonso Sastre produced for them, even today, due to his ideas.
I believe that Alfonso Sastre’s theater is now more alive than ever and that it has a lot to say to the citizens of this 21st century and those of the centuries to come. That, after all, is what qualifies an author as “classic.”
I remember that, on the occasion of this performance in Hondarribia, I gave him a book with poems by Marguerite Yourcenar, my main author. I also remember that the little book surprised him as much (because of the unusual) as the staging of his work.
Perhaps our work as stage directors is not more than that (or one of them), bringing past authors to the present through a new, surprising look.
Alfonso Sastre, man of integrity, consistent with himself and with his time May the earth be light to you!