Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa may be known more for his novels, but he has also written at least nine plays.
He wrote his first play in 1952, titled “La Huida del Inca” (The Escape of the Inca). There was a long gap before a cascade of his next works—“La Señorita de Tacna” (The Young Lady from Tacna) in 1981, “Kathie y El Hipopótamo” (Kathie and the Hippopotamus) in 1983, “La Chunga” (The Chunga) in 1986, “El Loco de los Balcones” (Mad for the Love of Old Balconies) in 1993, “Ojos Bonitos, Cuadros Feos” (Beautiful Eyes, Awful Paintings) in 1996, “Odiseo y Penélope” (Odysseus and Penelope) in 2007, “Al Pie del Támesis” (On the Banks of the Thames) in 2008, and “Las Mil y Una Noches” (A Thousand and One Nights) in 2010.
His most recent was “Los Cuentos de la Peste” (Tales of the Plague), an adaptation of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” written in 2014 and staged in the first quarter of 2015.
During his recent visit to Manila, he admitted that theater is his first love. Aside from being a playwright, he has also participated in public readings of his plays. And in “Tales of the Plague,” he made his debut as a stage actor, at age 78. He played—what else—the role of an old man, Duke Ugolino, a 14th-century nobleman.
“It was a suggestion of the director. For me it was a fantastic experience,” he said with a giggle. “If you have been practically all your life writing fiction, to become—for two hours a day in a month—a character in a work of fiction is a fantastic experience.”
“Tales of the Plague” ran Jan. 28-March 1, 2015 at Teatro Real opera house in Madrid, according to a report in The Guardian.
“But I am not an actor and I think the critics were very generous, very understanding,” he said, again with contagious laughter. “I agree with them [critics] that I am not an actor. I am a writer and I write also for the theater, not only novels. And I like the theater very, very much. There is a very marginal experience in the life consecrated to acting.”
His favorite playwrights include Chekhov, Brecht, Spanish dramatist Ramon del Valle-Inclan and, the most influential for him, Arthur Miller.
‘Death of a Salesman’
Vargas Llosa said French writer Gustave Flaubert’s novel “Madame Bovary” was what inspired him to become a novelist. But it was Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” that got him into theater and writing plays.
“When I was 11 or 12, I saw in Lima (Peru), a play by Arthur Miller presented by an Argentine company, ‘Death of a Salesman,’ and I was absolutely fascinated with this play in which, like in a modern novel, the story jumped from past to future, from future to past, and the way in which on a stage, Miller could synthesize the whole life of the family of this poor salesman.”
This experience led him to write “La Huida del Inca.”
“I could have been more a playwright than a novelist. But it wasn’t the case,” he said. In Peru at the time, “the theatrical movement was very small.”
“You could be deeply frustrated writing for the theater in those conditions. And so this pushed me to novels and narratives.”
That’s why his second play “La Señorita de Tacna” came more than two decades after “La Huida del Inca.”
Despite the immense popularity of his novels, he has said no to the idea of having them adapted for the stage.
“A novel and a play are completely different. Theater is for dialogue. No descriptions. A novel without description is very impossible, I think. It would be so limited. They are two visions of the world which are completely different, even incompatible.
“What is very mysterious for me—and I can’t explain why—but I have this very clear feeling when I have an idea for a story, that I know if it’s for the theater or for a novel.”
“But I love theater very much, and I will keep writing plays,” he said.
Will he act again?
“No, no more acting,” he said, chuckling. “Once is enough.”—CONTRIBUTED