Luis Rondon Paz
HAVANA TIMES — The work, written by Romanian-French author Eugene Ionesco, premiered nearly 50 years ago and comes to the Cuban stage for the first time, under the direction of filmmaker Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti. In this version of the play, Cremata invites audiences to reflect on the story of King Berenguer (Berenjena, “eggplant,” in this adaptation), a dictator who has been in power for over two hundred years, who finds out he is going to die in an hour – by the end of the play, that is to say.
Though we are dealing with an adaptation, the play, in my opinion, manages to maintain the public interested on the events that transpire in the court, where King Berenjena is surrounded by a broad range of characters, in a setting which at times feels medieval, at times contemporary and at times entirely fictitious.
We are told the story of a monarch not unlike the many that populate the history of humanity, rulers who, and I quote, “dictate orders that cannot be fulfilled, under an obsessive-progressive handicap, turning their countries into ramshackle and totally ruined empires. All of this is portrayed within the structures of the theater of the absurd (…)” The performers take on a narrative that is constantly playing with the political and historical culture of the audience, inviting it to draw their own conclusions from the play.
I found the situation of King Berenjena (what a clever name!) hilarious. Is the situation graphic enough to make us see what monarch they might be referring to in the play? This monarch wants everything to bear his name, the name of the Man-King-God who stands above good and evil. Poor fellow. Does he not recognize his human limitations? Does he really want to continue tormenting his servants with his madness?
These thoughts came to mind while enjoying the suggestive dialogue of the characters of stage. During several moments of the climax, the play made the audience burst out laughing, when one of the characters of the court implored the queen to go through with her threat of kicking him in the derriere to make him land in the United States. Incidentally, this is the country the play and subsequent stagings during the season were dedicated to. Suggestively, El Rey se Muere (“The King is Dying”) premiered on the 4th of July, US Independence Day.
The plot does not lose steam as it unfolds. The “poison” that afflicts the court is the best ally of the double standards that the characters adopt, with much style, around the monarch. They know he will soon die and, sometimes, behind his back (and to his face at others), ask what will become of them when “He or That One” leaves the realm of mortals. All the while, his majesty, the supreme commander in chief, in his impertinent insistence on living on, orders that his name be used for everything after he has come to the end of his vegetative existence.
Luckily, I am in Cuba, I have no King Berenjena and the dialectic exists. I believe this is a very good play. If I lived in the reality portrayed by the narrative, life would boil down to this:
“In principle, he will bequeath us a fractured nation and a state suffering the saddest, most desolate and cruel decline.”
As the name of the play suggests, the king is dying, and he does die at the end. The Queen (or Queens, for there are two in the play), takes over the throne, leaving the audience to imagine what will happen as the curtains fall on a beautiful lesbian kiss.
I thought this a refreshing work, inviting us to reflect about our values and beliefs, as well as question the absolute truth that, one day, all of us will die.
The play will be staged on weekends throughout July at 8:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sundays at 5 pm, at the Tito Junco theater in the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center.