Theater of the Absurd in Cuba

Dariela Aquique

I'm getting on this bus.

The “theater of the absurd” is one mode of creating dramatized works.  In Cuba it is associated with Virgilio Piñera, the island’s father par excellence of dramatic works that were the precursor of this genre.

He was successful in that his plays always reflected the national reality, tackling themes of family conflict, economic and social situations, the peculiarities and daily life of Cubans, while giving all of this a sarcastic tone.

Using the farce as his basic tool, along with elements of tragedy and comedy, his repertoire invariably winds up amusing.  All of us who have enjoyed Piñeria’s works have noted their creator’s gift for creating fictitious situations with imagery remarkable for their exaggerated and scathing edges.

Even if it means getting on in the back.

But Virgilio was not a genius; he was a learned and loquacious man who knew how to impeccably record the ways in which we are Cuban.  It’s amazing that more than 30 years since his death he remains so cogent.

He gives the impression that we haven’t changed at all or that, to the contrary, we’ve become frozen at a certain moment in history and that in any episode of our lives there’s an absurd situation deserving treatment in a theatrical work.  It’s worth saying that we Cubans are in fact very theatrical, which is quite logical when one lives in a state of constant neurosis.

I can illustrate all this through what happened on a bus yesterday:

(It must have been around 2:00 in the afternoon.  It was fairly hot and the bus was driving along packed with passengers, with everyone feeling like canned sardines and almost everyone speaking loudly and seeming confounded.)

Driver: Hey, hey…those getting on from the back need to pass their fare on up here!

It's hot in here!

A woman: Listen, you better take you hand out of my purse!

A man: Please young lady, you don’t have to push!

Young woman: What do you expect old man.  Buy yourself a car if you don’t like it so cramped.

Pregnant woman: The guy in my seat better get up, now!

Seated handicapped man: Look at my ID card.  This is my seat.

(Laughter…until a racket interrupts)

A woman: You got a lot of nerve you pervert, get off the bus! Driver, driver, look there’s a…!

Virgilio Piñera

Voices in concert: Get out you degenerate!

(An old man with Alzheimer’s stands up and starts rambling)

Old man: Listen everybody, I am retired from the Transportation Department, and that is where my check comes from to pay the 20 centavos for this ride, to pay for everything, all this is thanks to the Commandant!

(Extended laughter)

(In the middle of the racket a little girl has a panic attack and begins crying disconsolately)

The mother: Baby, why are you crying like that?

Me: (thinking of Virgilio) Because that’s her part in this play.

The mother: I don’t understand.

Me: It’s for that very reason mam, it’s not meant to be understood.

Describing this incident, without over doing it, I’ve been able to write a complete scene from the theater of the absurd.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.


One thought on “Theater of the Absurd in Cuba

  • March 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm
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    There is no more absurd theater than Cuba itself!

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