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Diatriba de amor contra un hombre sentado.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has sometimes been accused of misogyny, but in this mordant one-act play he takes the woman's side. Before the curtain goes up the audience hears the systematic breaking of objects, wwch, according to the stage directions, conveys both jubilation and rage. After the curtain goes up, Graciela, the only speaking character, strikes a match, and the resulting blaze gradually illuminates the scene -- upper-class bedroom, tastefully decorated, with a sofa on which sits Graciela's husband, "played" by a mannequin with a newspaper in its hands. Before the actress utters one word, the spectator gets the gist: This play will be about a frustrated, wealthy woman, whose marriage to a distant, unresponsive husband has made her life hell.

As she gets dressed for the couple's silver anniversary celebration, Graciela launches into a long monologue directed at her immobile husband, in which she recreates her life during the last twenty-five years. At first, they were happy. She was a poor girl and he, a rebellious kid from a rich family who played at being poor, dressing like a hippie and taking up with Graciela. In spite of her mother's warnings, the girl fell head-over-heels in love with him and spent the rest of her youth trying to become worthy, getting her bachillerato and a slew of higher degrees. But his mother never accepted her. After the marriage he returned to his former role -- that of spoiled son of a rich family. She learned to play the society lady, flaunting her jewels and her fancy clothes. Meanwhile, he grew distant, obsessed with material wealth and social position.

With his characteristic tongue-in-cheek amassment of particular, Garcia Marquez creates an idea of the excess that will characterize the anniversary party: "More than a thousand native and foreign guests, four hundred kilos of caviar, sixty artificial oxen imported from Japan, the entire national production of turkeys, and enough alcohol to solve the problem of the shortage of housing for the poor."

But none of this can bring back the joy of those early years, in which they both rebelled against their class and found solace in each other's arms. Pacing the stage, changing clothes over and over again, smoking incessantly and hurling insults at the husband who ignores her, Graciela embodies the frustration and rage of the alienated wife. Finally, she takes a match and ignites the room. Her "straw husband "is consumed immediately. But the conflagration symbolizes not only the hell her life has become, but also the passion she still feels. In spite of everything, she continues to love this empty effigy of a man, and she mourns the loss of that affection they once shared.

One cannot read Diatriba de amor without feeling a tug at the heartstrings. Caustic yet touching, Garcia Marquez's new play is a biting commentary on marriage, but also on the vapid, detached upper class, which has lost the joie de vivre that makes life worth living.

The play opened in March 1994, at the Fourth Latin American Theater Festival, in Bogota, Colombia.

Barbara Mujica is a writer and professor of hispanic literature at Georgetoum University, in Washington, D, C., and a regular contributor to Americas.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1995
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