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Cipriano de Rivas Cherif y el teatro espanol de su epoca (1891-1967).

Cipriano de Rivas Cherif y el teatro espanol de su epoca (1891-1967). By JUAN AGUILERA SASTRE and MANUEL AZNAR. (Teoria y Practica del Teatro, 16) Madrid: Publicaciones de la Asociacion de Directores de Escena de Espana. 1999. 593 pp. 3400 pts.

Teatro universitario en Zaragoza 1939-1999. Ed. by JESUS RUBIO JIMENEZ. Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza. 1999. 376 pp. 3800 pts.

'In the twentieth century, drama is unquestionably the branch of the arts in which Spain has the least to offer to the common store of European culture' (G. G. Brown, A Literary History of Spain: The Twentieth Century (London: Ernest Benn; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972, p. 110)). Not only does such a view seem to belittle the major contributions of Valle-Inclan and Lorca, but it also typifies the limitations of much of what was written on the topic until fairly recently, particularly by British and North American Hispanists. This was due, in part, to a lack of detailed knowledge about the subject: indeed, it is probably true to say that even now we know more about the Spanish theatre of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than we do about that of the early twentieth. Another cause is the tendency to equate dramatic literature with theatre, and the resultant failure to take account of directors, actors and actresses, stage designers and theatre critics. Yet another reason was a lack of knowledge about what was going on in Barcelona, where Adria Gual's innovative work at the Teatre Intim matched other European ventures like Lugne-Poe's L'OEuvre or Stanislavski's Moscow Arts Theatre.

Spanish critics were not immune from erroneous generalities about the subject. Mainer, for instance, writing in 1983, compares Spain unfavourably to other European countries as far as the quality of its stage design is concerned, and refers to 'una riqueza escenografica que en Espana tenia como unico representante a Martinez Sierra' (Jose-Carlos Mainer, La Edad de Plata (1902-1939), 3rd edn (Madrid: Catedra, 1983), p.165, my italics). However, recent critical studies, principally published in Spain, have corrected such views, broadening and deepening our knowledge of the topic in the process. The three authors/editors of the two books under review here are major contributors to this process, through their exhaustive analysis, their interpretation of primary sources, sober judgements and lack of sweeping statements.

Aguilera Sastre and Aznar's book is a superbly-documented study of Rivas Cherif, who was one of the major figures of twentieth-century Spanish theatre. It is part of the Asociacion de Directores de Escena de Espana's series on Theory and Practice of the Theatre: under their director, Juan Antonio Hormigon, ADE has made an important contribution through this and other series, and through their journal ADE Teatro, to our better understanding of modern Spanish theatre. The book analyses European influences on Rivas's conception of theatre and traces his life and achievements within Spain during the pre-Civil War period, through his remarkable work inside Franco's gaols as a political prisoner to his period of Latin American exile. It portrays Rivas as an indefatigable, knowledgeable and rigorous renovator and experimenter, always ahead of his time. It also depicts him as someone who was able to combine theatre practice and theory to great effect. The study includes a bibliography of Rivas's original plays and librettos for ballet and opera, translations and editions, and articles in the press. These alone run to fifty-seven pages of the book, which is indicative of Rivas's prodigious journalistic output as well as the exhaustive nature of Aguilera Sastre and Aznar's research.

However, the book is not just an account of one man's life. As the title indicates, it is about a period of Spanish theatre which spans the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, and it painstakingly traces Rivas's relationship with other theatrical practitioners. It also paints a picture of a man inextricably bound up with the politics of his age. He was Manuel Azana's cousin, and a staunch supporter of the Second Republic. This was in many ways the key period of his life, in which he collaborated with such figures as Xirgu, Burmann, Valle-Inclan and Lorca to produce one of the great periods in Spanish theatre history.

On the face of it, one would not expect a book about the university theatre in Zaragoza to be as central to a re-evaluation of twentieth-century Spanish theatre as a major study of Rivas Cherif. However, such doubts are soon dispelled in a series of articles which trace the development of the theatre from the immediate post-Civil War period to the present day. Some of them are written by men who were actually involved at Zaragoza, including Hormigon and Alberto Castilla. As with Aguilera Sastre and Aznar's book, rigorously researched detail is combined with a feel for the broader theatrical context. Mention of other Spanish university theatres emphasizes their important role, particularly as an alternative to the often dire offerings of the commercial theatre during the Franco regime. Reference is made to books on the theatres of the Universities of Valencia and Murcia, the latter by Cesar Oliva, who has been one of the major players as writer and director on the university circuit, and whose El teatro desde 1936 (Madrid: Alhambra, 1989) is an important contribution to modern Spanish theatre studies.

Teatro universitario en Zaragoza 1939-1999 contains many surprises. How many of us knew, I wonder, that this group was responsible, in 1962, for the first Spanish production of Lorca's El publico (of the two scenes that were known then)? Foreign and Spanish playwrights were performed, including contemporary writers such as Alfonso Sastre. What is most remarkable is the breadth and quality of productions, especially considering the limitations imposed by censorship and lack of resources during the Franco regime.

This is a beautifully illustrated book. The extensive reproductions of cast lists, programmes, black-and-white and colour photographs of productions and costume designs are typical of those recent studies on modern Spanish theatre that look at dramatic texts in a much wider context than earlier studies. Both books provide rich illustration of that context. Much research remains to be done, but these two studies provide us with further pieces of the jigsaw.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:George, David
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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