Interview by Mauricio Fuentes for Interdram.
Translation by Bruce Gibbons Fell.
July, 17, 2020.
“When the word indicates particular requirements, it must be confronted with space. That clash is necessary for me. To break the space through screaming physically. It helps me leave the uterine, intimate code to achieve the universality I need.”
I met Flavia Radrigán fifteen years ago. We were both members of ADN (Asociación de Dramaturgos Nacionales; National Playwrights Association). I also met her thanks to her father, Juan Radrigán. Back then, I had a radio program on Radio Tierra, Revolviendo el gallinero, about performing arts and film. Flavia and her father were guests on separate occasions. The day Flavia visited, we spoke in a very warm ATMOSFERA, as we listened to Cole Porter and Jacques Brel. Conversation flows smoothly with Flavia. When I hear her speak, it's as if I am talking with someone from my father's side of the family. We spoke on the internet not long ago. Magically, no matter the distance or technology, we began talking about theatre and ended up speaking about anything (always keeping the topics relevant). I feel close to Flavia because of orality and because of her discourse and social conscience.
1.- What motivated you to write a version of William Shakespeare's King Lear? What themes from the original play are present? What transforms or differs in your vision: Lear, el rey y su doble (Lear, the king and his double)?
I began writing it because I was commissioned an adaptation of the play. For several reasons, the project didn't come to fruition. I was left with material that I believed was sustainable, and I continued to work on it. My obstinacy in finishing it came from conversations with my father when he was writing his version of The Tempest, where we would discuss Shakespeare's plays.
I constructed the play around King Lear and his obsession with shattering destiny, his obsession with overthrowing the phantoms of abandonment, and their contradictions regarding man and power.
The play is set in the present. It presents an old patriarch who has decided to divide his realm among his three daughters in exchange for hearing their admiration and affection. This is the way the omnipotent monarch puts love to the test. Cordelia, his youngest daughter, disgusted by her sister's audacity, faces him regarding the truth behind their relationship. They have always loved each other. Lear ravishes his daughter; they are lovers.
The play revolves around the premise of power and annihilation of paternity—the hate between fathers and sons. Lear shows us the tireless longing for rest versus the constant struggle to remain, to never age, to not leave the realm. He owns everything and everyone.
Lear, Cordelia, and his Fool reveal that they have been trampled over by emotion and that the only thing they have left is a final filial battle. They will take their own way of building a family to the point of delirium.
The play ends with the eternal return of who we are and will never cease to be. It's a metaphor about the state of our contemporary society, which can't leave its traumatic past until it has been healed.
2.- I interviewed you over ten years ago, in a program that I hosted and produced in Radio Tierra: Revolviendo el Gallinero (revolver el gallinero: literally means "to stir the chicken coup"; similar expression in English: "to set the cat among the pigeons"). I remember we spoke about the epistolary novel "Les Liaisons dangereuses" by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and particularly about the Marquise de Merteuil. On that occasion, you said you saw her as a woman ahead of her time. She mastered her body and sexuality, somehow defying the hypocritical and puritan society she lived in. In those years, you already had an unequivocal stance on gender. Today, feminism has materialized with even more strength. The discourse has been hoisted by the new generations, with diverse and renewed perspectives. Has your feminist position evolved since then? Does this thinking appear in your plays?
Yes, for sure. There has been an evolution, and I have been trying to steer it towards my life and my plays. Chile is going through its best moment; women theatre-makers have brilliantly put forward themes related to power, acknowledgment, and gender. No one can look the other way when it comes to all the forms of abuse that thousands of women have gone through. Theatre created by women managed to take bring forward objectification and female stereotypes.
The word has a social function. How couldn't we face the situation Chilean women and the women in the world are in? Women's theatre dialogues from the necessity of saying that the patriarchy has always been a perfect and perverse system of exploitation. A system that has maintained its impunity for thousands of years. Packs that commit the most atrocious barbarities. Theatre fights from that place, revealing it with a point of view, with plays and productions that have a foundation, a life, and a sociopolitical approach that's sustainable in time. And I hope to keep contributing. I believe my female characters question what they should and what must be known, and I'm pleased about that.
And finally, I would like to say that I have beautiful memories of Radio Tierra. I think that the chicken coup needs to keep being stirred.
3.- In "El descanso de las velas" (The rest of the candles), you present four damaged characters: two men and two women. They all have a shared social origin. There is a tension between the private or intimate, as well as the social space they inhabit, which eventually defines them. We could read this last element as the trigger to the damage that prevents the characters from finding completion, communicate and surrender to the love they believe they have for each other. However, the story focuses more on the characters' personal subjectivities and their relationships. How would you define this play? Is it a play that transits from the social to the intimate?
I wrote the play in 2012. I wrote it out of anxiety and maybe the anguish I felt after seeing how, for so many years, there was a demand for reparation and truth to events that would never get the justice they deserved. I also came from that channeled prayer that came from lighting candles: thousands of candles like tormented souls that extinguished like the family members and friends in the memory of those who will not return.
Every time I witness candlelight memorials, I am deeply moved. At the same time, I feel the urge to put them out and scream that our actions need to change, that the candles will not bring anyone back, and that they won't bring us a miracle. That's the reason why the play is called "El descanso de las velas" ("The rest of the candles").
I believe this play fits very well in the permanent fracture that has sustained Chile. This fractured Chile hasn't changed. The evidence of the fragility and collapse of modern institutions, like family and the failure of the roles of the state, has catastrophic effects on this country's offspring. It's like living in an iron mold that gives no room for depolarization.
This is why the play takes on the inwardness of conflict, the incoherence of memories versus rational/rationalist thinking, and those illogical memories in front of the disaster of the present.
4.- The last time we spoke, I mentioned that whenever I heard you speak, I was reminded of the women in my paternal family. I discovered a certain familiarity in your orality. Chileans have a particular way of speaking. It varies to some extent, due to geographical causes and the social environment you belong to. Theatre feeds, no doubt, from orality. Theatre is, ultimately, pure orality. Do you believe your writing highlights Chilean orality? Do you think it's a "duty" to always highlight your environment's own orality? Or can you take on other forms of orality to broaden the spectrum of your writing?
It's comforting to hear that the way I speak reminds you of those women that are a part of your family. I have always fought against oblivion, and making changes in language has a bit of that. I believe I try to conserve it because I was born with it. It's inside the walls where I live. I even taught my children some expressions used by old neighbors and family members who are still with us today. Language inevitably mutates, and playwrights explore it and look for a way to simplify that language. This is not due to the weight of its content but due to the echos of history. My plays wander inside the mix of non-forgetting and the current pursuit that becomes me. Imagine this: my aunts lived right by the Vega Central (Santiago's Central Market). When we'd shop there, the infinity of pitches, broken words, idioms, and grunts were part of a generation that only wanted to be allowed to live in peace. So yes, playwriting highlights orality and gives mee the space to broaden my spectrum.
5.- Today, most of the world is going through confinement measures, which creates certain limitations to bodies, in terms of expression and movement.
In some of your plays, there is a direct relationship between the passing of time and bodies (Lear). There is also a relation between bodies and the spaces they inhabit (El descanso de las velas). The passing of time is something we can't stop, as well as, in some cases, the spaces that are inhabited are imposed by society and given circumstances. What do these two variables mean to you when it comes to finding a conflict or dramatic tension in your plays' characters or stories?
Corporeality is very important. The body talks, the body falls silent, the enslaved body… In these plays, I tried to cover what is nowadays called Kinepolitics. This means subordinating the body to a state of normalization, subordinating the movement towards what is correct within spaces and regarding everyday objects. For example, sitting on a chair and not on the floor, eating at a table you do not want to sit at, walking on your two feet, and not moving however you want to move... it's related to whatever is prominent, whatever has been established. In my plays, I try to face open spaces with the need for freedom in our "battlefield," which is how the body is called within feminist views. When the word indicates particular requirements, it must be confronted with space. That clash is necessary for me. To break the space through screaming physically. It helps me leave the uterine, intimate code to achieve the universality I need.
6.- Your play "De las Historias Privadas de Dios" ("Of God's Private Histories") is set within the context of the recent turn of the century. The characters are trapped in the past and are trying to leave that past behind, to break free. There is also a tension between objective reality and the reality we humans can create in our minds to make our lives more bearable. What did you want to express through this historical event and the fictional story of these characters, marked by death and the absence of a father?
The play is set on New Year's Eve, in the year 2000. A mother and daughter are preparing themselves for what they believe with be a miracle, a new era, a new way of living. The mother clings to the love that one day united her with Alberto Cabrera Muños. Alberto, at 22, became the last executed and dismembered man in 1955. The mother, pregnant and alone, raises her daughter as if the father was still with them, subverting time and events. The daughter is older and waiting for the turn of the century to sort history out.
With this play, I wanted to dig deep into the lives of those aunts and family friends that were the Penelopes of their time. These women had no political connections whatsoever and were abandoned in the prime of their love lives. When I listened to them, I felt they had the need to be legitimized and hold on to their conjuring imagination. They felt the need to hold on to that love that would not come back: a love that left them under different excuses, even if they were pregnant before time. All those children had to hear stories of the parents they didn't get to meet. Some also had to bear the hate and family rejection that came from the abandonment.
As I wrote, I heard of the last person executed under the formed Penal Code. The story had an impact on me because I was familiar with the neighborhood, like the streets and the Matadero, where Criollito sang tangos. This story was about a woman who had gotten pregnant very young, and the promise of marriage was the only thing left in her heart. I asked myself if that woman would tell her son or daughter if their parent was a murderer. The story comes from these old codes of good living, related to the model family, in regards to history falling apart, and how the next generation needs to revert the damage for their own salvation.