Jose Antonio Rodriguez: Finally Rests in Peace with Carlos Ruiz

Irina Pino

Jose Antonio Rodriguez
Jose Antonio Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — We have lost an actor of a thousand characters, Jose Antonio Rodriguez passed away on September 7th. Government media report that he had been suffering from a degenerative disease.

Theater, television, film and radio should pay him a long tribute, it’s been a while since people have talked about him, and that’s somewhat unfair, especially on the TV where you can pick up on these oversights.

Fame goes to the last man… but that doesn’t matter, many people will admired him will remember his amazing career, the way he breathed life into his characters, this man could master completely different characters of Shakespeare. One of his last performances was for an Albee play: Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? which was put on at Havana’s Grand Theater.

In Galileo Galilei, by the playwright Berthold Brecht, he shared his role of playing Galileo with Vicente Revuelta. Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera was also in this play – he played the pope. Together, they made up “Los doce” which was an avant-garde, experimental theater group in true Grotowski style: minimalist mise-en-scene, going without characterization make-up, decorations and sound effects; just a dim soft light to highlight the actor.

Emotions were conveyed in his body expression. He didn’t just play a part, he really lived through it. He had to go inside the character, and I think he did. Suffering can destroy and leave its mark, maybe that’s why he had such a horrible disease, which began with him losing his immediate memory and then took a turn for the worse, breaking down each of his bodily functions.

I knew this great actor personally, through his friend and colleague, Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera, who used to visit him quite regularly once he began to lose his mind. Carlos was very concerned with his behavior as Jose Antonio was calling him up a few times a day and then had no recollection of doing so. He didn’t recognize his house either.

One day, I went with Carlos to see him, I remember that he showed me his home with great courtesy, an old house on Vapor Street, with several bedrooms. He was a charming man with a strange sense of humor, which he still hadn’t lost, in spite of his disease. We sat in the living room and he began to enthusiastically tell us anecdotes from the past. Then Carlos Ruiz asked him to recite Guillens poem “Los dos abuelos” with him, something which he did masterfully, without leaving out a single phrase. It was amazing to see him, to hear him, with that voice of his and its many tones…

Jose Antonio and Carlos were close friends and, even though they were always fighting, they loved each other dearly. Carlos passed away last year when he was 82 years old, Jose Antonio has followed him aged 81. One sudden death after another. What a strange way to meet up in heaven.