Jorge Ali Triana brings Gabriel Garcia Marquez tale to GALA Hispanic Theatre

(Bill O'leary)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011

The irrepressible Colombian director Jorge Ali Triana scoots off his stool during a break in rehearsals at GALA Hispanic Theatre on 14th Street NW to re-create the scene of when he once vexed Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and thus learned a little lesson about art. ¶ It was Bogota, Colombia, the early 1990s. Triana was unveiling his production of "La Candida Erendira," which he had adapted from Garcia Marquez's novella "The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother" - the same work that Triana is directing this month at GALA. ¶ Triana by then had established himself as a significant Latin American director, working voraciously in theater, film and television. His award-winning film from a Garcia Marquez script, "Tiempo de Morir" ("Time to Die"), had been admired by the writer. ¶ And he was embarking on what would turn into a two-decade odyssey of adapting monuments of Latin American literature for the stage. The most admired writers, including two Nobel laureates - Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa - entrusted their work to him. ¶ "Erendira," with co-adaptor Carlos Jose Reyes, was one of his first attempts. ¶ "Hey," growled Garcia Marquez. "How come Erendira doesn't say the dialogue about the diamonds?" ¶ He was referring to the scene in the play during which diamonds are revealed growing inside oranges being transported by smugglers. ¶ "Because it's not in the novel," Triana replied. ¶ "Of course it's in the novel!"

"No, it's not!"

"I'm going to get the book."

García Marquez thumbed to the page in question and discovered that, in fact, the dialogue he had thought was there was not. Something about Triana's stage version had tricked and triggered the writer's imagination.

"Well," said Garcia Marquez, "now it has to be there." On the spot, he dictated lines for Triana to add to the play.

Alas, Triana confesses, chuckling as he retakes his stool, he can't remember now what lines the master dictated, nor whether they are in the script of the current production. That's not the point.

The lesson, Triana says, lay not in the specific words that flashed in the Nobel laureate's imagination that day in the Bogota theater. The episode taught him to always be ready to recognize and embrace the perishable magic of the moment.

"Fortunately, I don't have a very good memory," he says. "Because it would be very boring to copy yourself. The interesting thing in theater, in the exercise of making art, is the adventure and the surprise and the encounter with the unknown."

Triana is bringing that adventurous spirit to one of the showcase productions marking GALA's 35th anniversary. The play, in Spanish with English surtitles, runs through Feb. 27.

"What I like from him, as a director, is that he's still trying things, discovering things, investigating, exploring," says Hugo Medrano, the Argentine-born director and actor who started GALA in 1976 with Rebecca Read, a dancer from New York City. (The couple married soon after founding the theater.)

The play revolves around beautiful Erendira, who, when scarcely a teenager, is forced into prostitution by her grandmother in order to repay the debt of having accidentally burned down her grandmother's house. Erendira finds passing happiness and a chance at escape with her angelic lover, Ulises (played by Ignacio Meneses), whose father grows those oranges.

The drama is set in la Guajira, a surreal golden desert landscape near the Colombian frontier with Venezuela, where today's smugglers are more likely to be hauling coca leaves than diamond-seeded oranges.

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