Spanish theater builds community

“El Monte Calvo,” which opens this weekend, will be performed entirely in Spanish by three of Yale’s faculty members.
“El Monte Calvo,” which opens this weekend, will be performed entirely in Spanish by three of Yale’s faculty members. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

“El Monte Calvo,” a Spanish play opening this weekend, is bringing together Yale and New Haven audiences through common appreciation of the language.

The play is the second event of the new 2012 Latin American Theater Series, a collaboration between The Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at the MacMillan Center and the Yale Department of Spanish and Portuguese that is funded by a Title VI grant from the United States Department of Education. Directed by Spanish professor Bárbara Safille, “El Monte Calvo” will be performed entirely in Spanish by three Spanish professors.

Although the cast and director are faculty members, the crew is comprised entirely of students, and the production team hopes that more students will become involved as the series continues, Mariana Arjona-Soberón ’13, the show’s producer and assistant director, said in an email. In the past, Safille has led theater workshops for students that culminate in the production of a play, as with last semester’s “La Hija Del Capitán.”

“The experience was completely different from any other play I’ve been in, and I definitely wish there were more opportunities to explore theater in Spanish at Yale,” Alexander Caron ’14, who was involved in Safille’s workshop last semester, said in an email.

The Latin American Theater Series attempts to deepen the on-campus presence of theater performed in Spanish, CLAIS project manager Jean Silk said, adding that the series will continue as long as the Title VI grant remains in effect. Theater in Spanish helps students develop their proficiency in the language and expands the scope of Yale’s theater scene beyond the traditional Western canon, she added. Silk, Safille and Arjona-Soberón all said they hope the series will reach beyond Yale’s borders to the greater New Haven and Connecticut communities.

“There is quite a large Spanish-speaking population, both at Yale and in New Haven,” Arjona-Soberón said. “Putting on Latin American Theater at Yale is to me about catering to an underserved population in the area and also really taking advantage of the diversity of people that we have here.”

Yale plays a central role in providing the New Haven community with access to the arts due to the faculty’s wealth of expertise, said Silk, who had already worked with Hispanic theater initiatives in New Haven through the León Sister Project, which seeks to educate New Haven locals about Nicaraguan culture.

Written by Colombian playwright Jairo Anibal Niño, the play revolves around two bums, who are veterans of the Korean War. As they wait in a train station for their army colonel to rescue them, they discuss the war, hunger and elephants. Once the colonel does come, the train station transforms into a military base.

Arjona-Soberón said the play addresses topics that are often difficult to speak about, but are relevant to the life of any war veteran, such as mental illness, privilege, education and hunger.

“The characters in the play are Colombian veterans of the Korean War, but the themes perfectly target any veteran,” Safille said in an email.

Safille added that she was motivated to produce the play by her concern for the thousands of veterans who have been coming home and will confront similar issues as they readjust to civilian life.

“El Monte Calvo” will be performed Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. in the Jonathan Edwards College Theater.

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