On the opening night of the International Hispanic Theatre Festival, Ernesto Ráez Mendiola — Peruvian actor, director and educator — accepted the festival’s life achievement award with the exclamation: “Theater is a collective effort!”
Fewer groups represent this truism more accurately than the iconic Peruvian theater company, Cuatrotablas, which took the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater immediately following the award ceremony to present the Spanish language play, Los Ríos Profundos.
It is an enigmatic play with a fascinating back story.
Los Ríos Profundos, directed by Cuatrotablas’ founder Mario Delgado Vásquez and performed by Vásquez, Flor De María Castillo and María Rodríguez Cardenas, is based on José María Arguedas’ novel of the same name.
It is a lyrical portrait of Ernesto, a boy who wanders throughout the Peruvian Andes in search of his father’s love and attention.
Since the novel is autobiographical, Vásquez’s stage adaptation involved extensive research into the life of the writer, who is an anthropologist.
The Peru of Arguedas’ childhood was severely segregated between los indios (Quechua-speaking indigenous people of the Andes) and Catholic Peruvians of Spanish descent.
Born in the heart of the Andes to a well-to-do family, Arguedas felt alienated by his father, a lawyer who traveled extensively. He took refuge in the language and customs of the indigenous servants who were charged with caring for him.
Actresses Flor De María Castillo and María Rodríguez Cardenas wear the large skirts, wide-brimmed hats, and white button-down blouses of the mamachas, Quechua-speaking indigenous women.
These mamachas symbolize Ernesto’s culturally divided world and identity.
Arguedas learned to read, write, and speak Quechua as a child, and Cuatrotablas’ adaptation is infused with words, songs, and phrases in Quechua.
Castillo’s powerful vocal abilities make her a standout.
Her voice soars from playful to melancholic as she sings in the traditional musical forms from the Andes.
Castillo’s voice transmits a rich range of emotions — it is one of the play’s purest treasures.
A cornerstone of Los Ríos Profundos’ work is that all actors portray the same character; in this case the three actors portrayed Ernesto, often simultaneously.
One actor will deliver a line or monologue and the others will echo it, creating a choral effect that is harmonious and often haunting.
In addition to Ernesto and Ernesto’s father, Vásquez also portrays an on-stage narrator.
Dressed in all white, he reads from pages that he periodically lets fall to the floor.
This reminds us of the play’s literary kinship to Arguedas’ novel.
The company said that because of difficulties in obtaining visas, it was unable to bring enough actors to fully perform the second half of the play, so Vásquez delivered it as a dramatic reading.