Buero Vallejo, Antonio

Buero Vallejo, Antonio
b. 1916, Guadalajara
   Buero Vallejo, almost single-handedly, set the course for the Spanish theatre after the Civil War. He was the first playwright to launch a serious, oppositional theatre during the Franco regime, and his critical views continued to challenge Spanish audiences throughout the transition to democracy.
   At the end of the Civil War most of the significant playwrights of the 1930s were dead or in exile, and the Spanish stage was given over to drawing-room comedies designed for an undemanding public. In this unpromising environment, Buero's prize-winning Historia de una escalera (Story of a Staircase) (1949) was acclaimed for its unconventional staging and its confrontation with the tragic reality of a Spain devastated by the recent conflict. It launched Buero on a career that was to accustom audiences to a socially committed, psychologically penetrating and technically accomplished theatre. Early on Buero discovered the plays of Ibsen and Shaw and was deeply influenced by Unamuno, but an interest in painting led him to studies in fine arts, which the war interrupted. For his involvement on the side of the Republic he was condemned to death, and spent six years in prison after his sentence was commuted. Once released, he immersed himself in Madrid's intellectual life and began to write for the theatre, completing five plays by the time he won the Lope de Vega Prize in 1949. Many of his dramas, performed under renowned directors like José Tamayo, attracted enthusiastic audiences and elicited critical acclaim; Buero has received honours such as the Cervantes Prize and election to the Royal Academy of Language. During the post-Franco years, Buero maintained his critical stance in plays like Jueces en la noche (Judges in the Night) (1979), Lázaro en el laberinto (Lazarus in the Labyrinth) (1986), and Música cercana (The Music Window) (1989), but younger theatregoers had different tastes, and reviewers commented that he had lost the freshness of his earlier efforts and the lustre he had carried as the voice of resistance to Franco.
   As an opponent of the dictatorship, Buero faced the dilemma of the artist enchained by a rigorous yet capricious censorship. Despite reproaches from colleagues like Sastre and Arrabal, Buero persisted in his attempts to find new ways of challenging his audiences. In some of his works — Historia de una escalera, Hoy es fiesta (Today Is a Holiday) (1956), or El tragaluz (The Basement Window) (1967)— contemporary Spanish reality plays itself out directly. His first play, En la ardiente oscuridad (In the Burning Darkness), reveals the symbolic dimension that was to become such a fundamental component of his art. Classical myth is employed in La tejedora de sueños (The Dream Weaver), and elsewhere— Aventura en lo gris (Adventure in Grey) and La doble historia del doctor Valmy (The Double Case History of Doctor Valmy) — an imaginary land provides the cover for Buero's condemnation of war and political torture. In some of his finest plays Buero uses historical settings to comment on the contemporary condition, for example, Un soñador para un pueblo (A Dreamer for the People), El concierto de San Ovidio (The Concert at Saint Ovide), La detonación (The Shot), or his recreations of Velázquez in Las Meninas and Goya in El sueño de la razón (The Sleep of Reason).
   While strongly unified thematically, Buero's plays are diversified and experimental in form. He has studiously avoided what he considers the excesses of the modern avant-garde, but he has a keen sense of the expressive power of the stage space and of non-verbal elements. Light and music are essential to his dramatic expression, and narrative frames lend depth to some of his best plays (for example, El tragaluz). Above all, Buero has experimented with devices that invite the spectator's empathy with an individual character's experience, such as Goya's deafness. The guiding principle of Buero's programmatic theatre and his contribution to the Spanish stage— also expressed in essays, prologues, and interviews —is the creation of a modern tragedy resting on a foundation of hope, in which the individual is free to exercise moral choice. With this vision and with his keen sense of dramatic construction, Buero helped to rid the contemporary Spanish stage of its safe but tired formulas.
   See also: intellectual life; theatre
   Major works
   Buero Vallejo, A. (1994) Obra completa, ed. L. Iglesias Feijoo and M. de Paco, 2 vols, Madrid: Espasa Calpe (vol. 1, Teatro, contains all of Buero's plays up to Música cercana).
   —— (1950) En la ardiente oscuridad; trans. M.P.Holt (ed.), In the Burning Darkness, in Three Plays, San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 1985.
   —— (1952) La tejedora de sueños; trans. W.I.Oliver, The Dream Weaver, in R.W.Corrigan (ed.) Masterpieces of the Modern Spanish Theatre, New York: Macmillan, 1967.
   —— (1958) Un soñador para un pueblo; trans. M. Thompson, A Dreamer for the People, Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1994.
   —— (1960) Las Meninas. Las Meninas, trans. M.P. Holt, San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 1987.
   —— (1962) El concierto de San Ovidio; trans. F. Anderson, The Concert at Saint Ovide, in M.P.Holt (ed.) The Modern Spanish Stage: Four Plays, New York: Hill & Wang, 1970.
   —— (1967) El tragaluz; trans. and ed. P.W. O'Connor, The Basement Window, in Plays of Protest from the Franco Era, Madrid: Sociedad General Española de Librería, 1981.
   —— (1970) El sueño de la razón; trans. M.P.Holt, The Sleep of Reason, in Three Plays, San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 1985.
   —— (1977) La detonación, trans. D.Johnston, The Shot, Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1989.
   —— (1986) Lázaro en el laberinto; trans. H.Cazorla, Lazarus in the Labyrinth, in P.W.O'Connor (ed.) Plays of the New Democratic Spain (1975-90), Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 1992.
   Further reading
   - Doménech, R. (1993) El teatro de Buero Vallejo: una meditación española, 2nd edn, Madrid: Gredos (an updated version of a perceptive and informative 1973 study).
   - Halsey, M.T. (1994) From Dictatorship to Democracy: The Recent Plays of Buero Vallejo, Ottawa: Ottawa Hispanic Studies 17, Dovehouse (a useful survey of Buero's production from 1974 to 1989).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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