Moments in Time
By Caridad Svich
This essay was written for the August 2013 issue of StageReads, where Archipelago is the featured play. It is reprinted here with the author's permission
An introduction by Stephen Wrentmore
Stephen Wrentmore is a theatre director, change consultant and the Associate Artistic Director at Arizona Theatre Company.
A casual conversation led to a casual inquiry
In cyberspace words were shared,
The virtual, led to paper and ink
That connection with words (let’s call it a script) led to travel.
Travel made new conversations, made real contact, a rehearsal room, a bar, food, conviviality.
This led to a spark of recognition.
“I will send you my new script,” she said. “It’s quite different.”
And so, virtually, I was introduced to the relentless beauty and eloquence of Archipelago. It glistens, like a body emerging from water, familiar and strange, public and private. A space of contradiction, of elegance and complexity, of seduction and alienation.
It is a glimpse at a dream become nightmare
It is love lost and love found
It is here and there
Other and home
It is him and her
It was love at first sight.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latino Literature describes Caridad Svich as a playwright, songwriter, editor and translator. I would add essayist, teacher, academic and commentator to the list. Hamlet demands the player, “hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature” and in so much of Caridad’s prolific career this has been the case. The Way of Water, set in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Spark, which explores soldiers’ homecoming from conflict. Then there are the adaptations of major novels of the Americas - The House of the Spirits, Love in the Time of Cholera, In the Time of Butterflies - and translations of pretty much the complete works of Lorca. These are just a few examples from a huge list that form a body of extraordinary and evolutionary work.
Like the great writers who went before her, Svich is interested in the bigger, deeper themes concerning what it means to be human, the world we live in and why, ultimately, we do what we do. Her prose is expressed in conflict and in love. In tension and in harmony. I see in her work the bloodline of the classics: there is Sophocles and Lorca, Shakespeare and Lope De Vega. Glancing at any page in the script you will see swathes of white space around short, precise, fathomless interchanges. Archipelago sent me back to Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, which I directed a few years ago, and it took me to a night at the National Theatre in London when I was very young, seeing Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language, and to the works of Beckett and his love for language and for the actor. In Archipelago I see the same deftness of touch, and the accuracy of the writer’s blade as it cut flesh and prejudice. These are the true parents of this play. The piece is poetic.
It suggests but shows no interest in answers.
Questions lead to questions.
It is willfully complex and achingly simple.
Look closely, it is not a flat surface, like the desert is not all sand…
There is an extraordinary sense of wanderlust in the narrative of Caridad Svich’s life that infuses the narratives of her plays. Born in Philadelphia to a Cuban-Spanish mother and Argentine-Croatian father, her formative years were spent gazing at the passing miles of late 1960s America as the family Chevy carried west then east then west then east, metronomically across the States from a home in New Jersey to Utah, Florida, California and New York. The tapestry of language and the tapestry of experience binding the Balkans to the Americas both north and south has had a profound impact on her, and that complexity is woven into her texts, her storytelling, and her adaptations.
Then think of the worlds that Caridad’s parents left behind.
Think how those worlds conjure stories.
Stories interwoven across multiple languages that were sung and spoken as the miles rolled by. Then later recalled as each stroke of the pen, each click of the keyboard pulls forth a ghost from this past and confronts the future in a pattern across the page.
I wanted to tell her everything about everything
About armed soldiers patrolling the streets
Roads cut off by barbed wire and concrete
And bayonets fixed to barrels and brothers dead in prison
and planes overhead and the swift crack of rifles…
Scene 10, Archipelago
From this place of transience has come an ability to observe and absorb, then reshape and express the ever changing ever more complex world around us. Caridad is interested in diversity of landscape, of people, and of the topography and geography of their experience. She creates continents for her characters and maps for the audience to trace their finger across as her situations and characters unfold. As a result one can start to see global themes emerging from her work: ideas of exile, migration, loss and loneliness – perhaps of isolation and the gossamer tethers that tie us all together. The personal political and the public, global political are played out on the landscape of the body. Humanized and tortured, erotic and profound.
We dreamed of candles and tea and soup and lemons
Figs and cherries and blossoms at springtime
We whispered little songs to each other, and surrendered our pride
Scene 6. Archipelago
Caridad Svich in Archipelago creates for us a dystopian world, and in the middle of that world she places love. Caridad plays with our knowledge of things, our prejudice, and our curiosity. For all that is NOT there, we find clues and tethers to hook our imagination. There are fingerholds and pitons to help us climb, to show us what MIGHT be there. Our job is to push through the veil of naturalism to the realm of our own imagination, to partake of the journey. A journey with a nameless boy and a nameless girl of an age, of any age, in a place that might be home and might be foreign, where time moves in many directions.
The play is set nowhere. It might be South America and a large metropolitan city in the United States; it might be the Middle East and America. What we discover are two people. One from there, one from here (wherever there and here are). One is always the other, one is always the outsider. Despite its worldliness it is an empty space. For all that happens around and to our Adam and Eve they never meet or connect with another voice. Instead they are connected to and divorced from each other. From the sound of the landscape, the ebb and flow of the ocean and the inevitable passing of time.
To define the play is to miss the point. It is not interested in solidity, and so, perhaps we might describe it as a memory play. And indeed, in the same way as your memory plays tricks with you, so too does the playwright. It seems an act of utter futility to try and describe a play that, like the roads of Caridad’s youth, lies before you to explore and interpret for yourself.
So, what’s the play about?
I would say, “About 90 minutes.”