La Fiesta del Chivo: A Tyrant’s Tale

Elsie Denton

For over thirty years, from February 1930 to May 1961, the people of the Dominican Republic lived under the iron fist of General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. While bringing stability and economic reforms to the country, Trujillo’s reign was soaked in terror. Political freedom was minimal or non-existent and dissidents died in nasty, unsavory ways.

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, in his novel La fiesta del chivo, or The Feast of the Goat, shines light upon the darker aspects of the Trujillo era that the Dominican public has spent most of the intervening century trying to forget.

On Saturday, November 17, Spanish Club organized a trip to New York City to view a theater adaptation of Vargas Llosa’s novel performed by El Repertorio Español and directed by Jorge Alí Triana. The piece was performed in Spanish, but El Repertorio provided simultaneous English translations via headphones to make the work available to non-Spanish speakers.

Gramercy Theater, where the play was held, is in a small nook on East 27th Street way off the beaten Broadway track. Which, in addition to providing a cozy and intimate atmosphere for the show, also meant that any hassle from the concurrent stagehand strike was avoided.

The theater, capable of holding barely forty people, butted directly against a spacious and puritan stage. The stage formed an inverse triangle away from the audience and housed at one time no more that two tables and a collection of chairs. In the background, was a tall, wood frame, lattice-like cage. The entirety of the scene was brown and leeched of color.

If the set seemed uninspirational, this fault was entirely redeemed by the excellence of the acting and brilliant use of stage lights.

Vargas Llosa’s story contains two intertwining plots. The first is the story of Urania Cabral. A successful Dominican women who has been in self-imposed exile since she was a teenager, Cabral has returned to the Dominican Republic to confront her father, recently reduced to covalence by a stroke and an old crony of Trujillo, and also to face her own past.

As Cabral torturously confronts her past, the audience is introduced to the horror of the Trujillo regime through photographic flashes and scenes. The past La fiesta del chivo presents is full of debauchery, cruelty and vice, but is not without an element of mockery and humor.

Some of the scenes during the play even border on the lewd. This may make the audience uncomfortable but also reinforces the excess and brutality of the time.

El Repertorio used an innovative technique to focus attention on stage. Multiple scenes often took place at once, but confusion was avoided by taking advantage of the mass array of lights overhead.

While one scene took prominence over the rest, its actors were bathed in light and had free range of the stage. The actors in the subordinate scenes froze and remained motionless, suspending action until it was their turn to step into the limelight. This technique was an excellent example of creative blocking, though at times it was easy to lose track of some of the separate storylines.

Alejandra Orozco, who played Cabral, and Ricardo Barber, who played the incredible duel roles of Trujillo and Agustín Cabral, Uriana’s father, both stole the show with their commanding performance on stage.

One of the true proofs of their genius was their ability to split their characters and play two incredibly distinct personas.

As Trujillo Barber is intense, domineering, capricious, cruel and proud; as Augstín Cabral he transformed himself into a feeble, invalid stricken by palsy and regret unable to even whisper a request for forgiveness as his daughter hurls accusations in his face.

The metamorphosis was shocking, it was difficult to believe that both roles were portrayed by the same person even when Barber switched costumes on stage.

Orozco had a similarly dramatic transformation as she switched between the proud, mature but emotionally unstable Uriana of the present to the hopeful and naive Uriana of three decades before. The younger Uriana bears scant resemblance to her emotionally wrecked senior with her high pitched voice and bashful demeanor.

However, Orozco’s two roles intersect as Uriana slowly makes her way back through her tormented past until, she and her younger self were united during her brutal rape by Trujillo. It wasn’t until she had faced the trauma of her past that Uriana could move forward with her life and begin the healing process.

Uriana’s experience was an analogy for the transformation the Dominican Republic is going through right now, the Dominican people are slowly confronting and overcoming the terror of the Trujillo regime and building a new identity for their country.