Raúl Martín’s adaptation of Los siervos (The Serfs), performed by Havana’s Teatro de La Luna during a Miami tribute to Cuban playwright Virgilio Piñera, transforms the anti-Stalinist screed of Piñera’s original into a far-reaching parody of absolutism.
Los siervos made its U.S. debut last weekend as part of Absurd Celebration: The First International Festival of Virgilio Piñera’s Theatre, a co-production between the University of Miami’s Department of Theatre Arts and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, in association with FUNDarte. The show was performed in Spanish with English supertitles.
Last October, Teatro de La Luna gave a show-stopping performance of Delirio Habanero, Alberto Pedro’s musical tribute to Celia Cruz and Benny Moré at the Miami Dade County Auditorium. Los siervos, a tragicomic farce, is very different. It confirms the breadth of artistic director Martín’s directorial vision, not to mention this company’s chops. The entire cast of Los siervos performs with exceptional vocal versatility and physical agility.
Gen. Pileno (Amarilys Núñez), Prime Minister Zenón (Yaité Ruíz) and Secretary of State Ralú (Olivia Santana) rule a perfect society where equality and happiness abound until philosopher and rebel Nicleto (Liván Albelo) disrupts the perceived state of collective equality by declaring himself a lowly serf in search of a master. Nicleto’s devotion to servility drills a crack in the façade of the current political system, “caronism” (a thinly veiled neologism for communism). Yordanka Ariosa and Mario Guerra portray a spy and a worker respectively.
Teatro de La Luna is known for its use of music, as well as its intense physicality and creative costuming. Martín designed long, imposing cloaks with wide, bulky shoulder pads, creating a look for Pileno, Zenón, and Ralú that is militaristic and futuristic (think Stalin meets Star Trek). Their exaggerated physical heft serves as a metaphor for the verbose rhetoric they spew.
The actors deliver their circuitous dialogues with a hyperbolic humor fit only for a political farce. They even argue at length about the form their arguments should take, going to extremes to assure nothing of substance is said. Stomping to the tune of an ominous military march, the triumvirate descends into a fury of violent percussive footwork as they plot Nicleto’s demise.
In contrast lithe and limber Nicleto, exquisitely portrayed by Albelo, enters the stage stealthily executing feather-light fan kicks and acrobatics with the aplomb of a ninja warrior.
Los siervos is disturbing and funny. It’s chilling to imagine actors in Cuba reciting lines like the following when it first debuted in Cuba in the late ‘90s. Zenón tells Nicleto: “You know very well a Caronist can only be a Caronist and nothing else. A Caronist never kneels before anyone. That’s why we abolished God.”
In the end, however, neither Stalinism nor communism is the sole target of this play’s ire. It’s a scathing reminder of the extremes to which all political forces will go in order to manipulate and control the masses.