tlf news Vol. xvi, #1 March, 1995

As Time Goes By

In the last fortnight of January, Dagoberto Bonilla and Chito Inestroza flew to Costa Rica to give a workshop on dramatizing the Gospels in a community on the skirts of the volcano Irazú. (While they were gone, Chito's wife Erica gave birth to their second daughter.) At the close, the whole town came together in the parish to support the youths' project. They have written us that they are planning a tour to present the pieces throughout Costa Rica.

Dago and Chito complained about the horrible cold--it got down to 50F--in the center where they worked. Oscar Cardoza spent the month of February at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin (speaking of cold), at the invitation of Prof. David Molthen. On top of shivering in the snow for the first time, he mounted some of the classic short pieces of tlf with students of the college.

"I liked the work a lot: the students were very receptive to the message of the teatro even without any personal knowledge of Central America. We only had a month to get the shows up, but it was a special group: I felt we were together in heart and soul because they were trying to live what we were mounting. They are anxious to get to know Honduras and to meet us personally. (And since I've experienced running through the snow, I prefer to see it in the movies from now on.)"

And a commentary from Carroll College:

"Mr. Cardoza has made a big difference in the lives of the people with whom he has worked during his stay. He has brought to Carroll College and to the United States a lot of important aspects of the Honduran culture and in doing so through his theatre work, we are able to appreciate the culture and the emotions that teatro la fragua portrays. Mr. Cardoza's visit was a lifelong experience for him and for us.


Surely you have heard of the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate, which has won prizes in numerous international film festivals and which is the first Cuban film to be nominated for an Academy Award. If you live in Progreso you had the chance to see the original stage version of the same work, The Cathedral of Ice Cream, as part of the 1994 season of teatro la fragua. Jorge Orellana, a San Pedro journalist, wrote about the show:

At the very moment that the Cuban boat people are daring the sea in the Florida straights, Osmel Poveda arrived in Honduras with a legal Cuban passport and Honduran visa. His arrival wasn't covered by the large television networks or the important magazines or newspapers.

Nonetheless, in spite of his silent entry into our country, Poveda speaks more to the political, ideological, economic and cultural conditions of Cuba than the sum total of news articles that reach us. "La Catedral del Helado", presented last week-end in teatro la fragua of El Progreso, is a monologue based on the story "The Wolf, the Woods, and the New Man" by the Cuban writer Senel Paz, winner of the international prize Juan Rulfo in 1990.But it is more full of distinct voices than many works performed by a whole group of actors. As the Cuban theatre critic Francisco López Sacha says, "A single actor dialogues forcefully about the world in which he lives with a freedom of expression rarely seen in our works of art. Before a cup of ice cream in Coppelia (an outdoor ice-cream parlor in Havana) begins the fascinating (because almost impossible) adventure of the friendship between a young communist, parsimonious, shy, slave to his prejudices, and a religious, solitary, myth-making homosexual."

Taking off from that relationship, Poveda creates an atmosphere using theatrical resources that are austere but crafted down to the least detail. The characters of Diego and David rise effortlessly, with a well-defined physical, psychological, cultural and social identity within a polyfaceted play of scenic elements capable of inspiring the imagination of even the dullest persons.

The accomplishment is obvious in the fact that he manages to keep an audience on the edge of their seats for more than an hour. Poveda dominates a bodily expression that would be the envy of most actors; he makes us live the joys and sadness, fears and strengths of the characters, to the point of ripping out of us laughter and tension, and of making us confront the whole gamut of feelings that the infrastructure of prejudice shores up. He strips our sensibility in the face of those who suffer the marginalization that is a product of their being different. In one scene Diego takes a stool and consoles himself with it, in a silent and extremely sad waltz, because he realizes that he can no longer live in Cuba in spite of his love for his homeland and his attachment to its culture and even to the ideals of the Revolution,and because he knows that his friendship with David will soon be only a memory.

As the French philosopher Renè Descartes said so well: "The truth is within our grasp, but we can't see it because of our prejudices." "The Cathedral of Ice Cream" strips away those prejudices. It is a story of friendship; but most of all it is a hymn to tolerance, to that which Benito Juárez called "the respect for the rights of others" which is peace.


People frequently ask us "Why do you do theatre in a place like Honduras, where there are so many basic things that the people need?" Reading The Nation last month, we came upon an article by Arthur C. Danto that speaks eloquently to that question. He writes in part:


News of the spectacular array of Paleolithic animal paintings recently discovered in the Ardèche region of southern France could not have come at a more timely moment.... Someone has already suggested that the splendor and vitality of these images recommend a change in nomenclature, from Homo sapiens to Homo artísticus, and this puts the making of art in a novel perspective. Reason--sapience--has, since ancient times, been thought to distinguish us from the other animals. But philosophers have increasingly become persuaded that reasoning is, in the words of David Hume, something "we possess in common with beasts." We, however, are the only animals to make art. The excitement the cave paintings have aroused reminds us of our essence: Art is not a frill but part of our basic humanity.

No one knows what specific role art played in the life of our Paleolithic semblables et frères, but we can make a few inferences. To begin, there is no way that art-making could have been an elitist activity. The members of the group had to have been persuaded that the making of images was for the common good, however they understood that, for life itself was too demanding to support frivolous activities. But that means that whatever concept of art Homo artísticus possessed, life without art was as unthinkable as life without food, clothing, shelter: It was a need. Maybe not an animal need, but an essential need for the artistic animal Paleolithic humanity already was. For all we know, the whole of life was organized around the production of these images, and the animals depicted defined the meaningful world for our earliest forebears the way images of deities defined the universe of the Egyptians or images of saints the world of Europeans who lived in the shadow of cathedrals. One must assume that there were many more media used than charcoal and hematite on limestone, but paintings on animal hides, birchbark or on human skin have long vanished. It was sheer luck that enough art survives from twenty milennia back to correct the prejudice that art is just a pastime for the jaded sophisticates of the Eastern establishment.

...The Paleolithic truth (is) that art is not an elite preoccupation but an essential need, given the taxonomy that the caves have helped to clarify. Perhaps the experience of art was, for a prolonged period of American history, believed to be something only an elite had time or taste for; but that belief was wrong. Art should be made as widely available as possible, and it should be part of life rather than something sequestered in a vestal existence for the benefit of a priesthood of aesthetes and specialists.... Indeed controversy is not a necessary concomitant of art. Still, it would be difficult to explain the depth of feeling controversial art arouses if it were true that art is only a frill.

Given our essentially artistic nature, it is perhaps time to begin thinking of art less as a luxury than as an entitlement. How many entitlements come as cheaply or mean as much?

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