Having been academically obliged to attend last year’s Spanish play, it was refreshing to be able to see a passionately assembled student production without worrying about the graded result. Performed at the Assembly Roxy Theatre, Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s tragicomedy Luces de Bohemia recounts the tale of a blind, failing modernist poet, Max Estrella, as he wanders drunk through the streets of the edgy end of 1920s Madrid. With various bohemian ideals addressed such as politics, journalism and literature, the play stems from Valle-Inclán’s desire for an aesthetic overhaul. With Max’s consistent failings and ostracism from modern literary traditions, Valle-Inclán enlightens his audiences of the tragedy of genius unrecognised in its time.
The onstage set was minimal besides an excellent use of old, unnamed books strewn across the stage perfectly reflected Max’s inner creative turmoil and hopelessness, as well as the state of the artistic tradition in modernist Spain, which Valle-Inclán sought to critique. However, one small, slightly jarring aspect was that on a few occasions, the actors stumbled and tripped over the books which did pull one out of the immersion of a scene a little, but this is a small qualm. The other aspects of practical production were also masterfully selected, with costumes and props such as Don Filiberto’s typewriter transporting the audience back to 1920s Madrid.
The usually basic but effective use of lighting was wonderfully varied and executed in the production, allowing the atmosphere within the auditorium to flow seamlessly with the action on stage, to maintain the illusion and ensure the audience’s investment in the events. The standout moment of the entire production, though, was through lack of light: the lighting of a solitary match used to prick the finger of the thought deceased Max. The match beautifully illuminated the faces surrounding the poet’s casket. There was a tangible intake of breath in the audience at the phenomenal execution of this climactic moment – definitely the best snapshot of the entire play. This instance smacked of the affinity the production team felt with the play and the subsequent care and dedication put in by all – a testament to both playwright and production team team.
Luces de Bohemia has acting talent in droves. Standouts include Gabriela Arranz as Max, performed with a perfectly maintained smoker’s growl, who also fulfilled the role of the blind man. Even without the use of such an expressive tool as the eyes, Gabriela was an excellent lead – great credit to her. Other special mentions go to Nicole Patterson-Vanegas as drunken lout Don Latino, Finley Dueñas as both Don Filiberto and Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario, who had great fun with probably the most flamboyant characters. Georgiana Day’s performance in the final scene by her character’s father’s grave was also great. Considering that not all actors speak Spanish to a native level nor study it as a degree, the performances of the ensemble were even more impressive.
The performance of all actors, principal and minor, were exemplary, with the care and craft involved in each portrayal being clearly evident. Appreciation was reciprocated by the audience, with warm applause filling the little theatre. In the final bows, the chemistry between all actors, producers and directors was evident, rounding off the theatre experience in a wholesome and satisfying way.
Luces de Bohemia
Image: UofE Spanish Theatre