Sastre, Alfonso

Sastre, Alfonso
b. 1926, Madrid
   Writer
   Sastre ranks among the most openly political and revolutionary Spanish playwrights of the twentieth century. For nearly five decades and in more than fifty plays, he has championed the cause of the oppressed, and openly challenged the institutionalization of cultural expression. In addition to writing for the stage, he founded the Arte Nuevo (New Art) theatre group in 1945, participated in the Teatro de Agitación Social (Theatre of Social Agitation) in 1950, and created the Grupo de Teatro Realista (Realist Theatre Group) in 1960. No other author of his generation confronted the censorship of the Franco regime with the same resolve and tenacity. Sastre has also written numerous critical essays on the sociological and political significance of drama. He is also a poet, a novelist and was twice the recipient of the National Theatre Prize (1985 and 1993). Recognition as a socially committed playwright came initially in 1953, with the début of Escuadra hacia la muerte (Death Squad). The play presented embryonically what eventually became characteristic elements of Sastre's writing: the exposure of the human penchant for violence; the condemnation of authoritarian social structures and the abuse of power; the rejection of repressive political tactics and institutionalized codes; the defence of the individual's unconditional right to freedom; and the emphasis on society's need to guard against the spread of tyranny. Sastre's keen social awareness and political commitment are illustrated by his treatment of oppression in Guillermo Tell time los ojos tristes (Sad are the Eyes of William Tell) (written 1955, banned, produced 1965), Tierra roja (Red Earth) (written 1954), La mordaza (The Gag) (written and produced 1954), Ana Kleiber (written 1959, produced 1960) and La cornada (Death Thrust) (written 1959, produced 1960). The importance of social integration is explored in La taberna fantástica (The Fantastic Tavern) (written 1966, published 1983, produced 1985) and La sangre y la ceniza (Blood and Ashes) (written 1965, banned, produced 1976). The social and political paradoxes of the human condition provide the themes of Ejercicios de terror (Exercises in Terror) (written 1970, published 1973, produced 1981), Los hombres y sus sombras: terrores y miserias del IV Reich (Men and their Shadows: The Horror and Misery of the Fourth Reich) (written 1983, published 1988), and Jenofa Juncal (written 1983, published 1986). Basque culture is given sensitive treatment in Askatasuna! (Freedom!) (televised Scandinavia 1974), Las guitarras de la vieja Izaskun (The Guitars of Old Izaskun) (written 1979) and Aventura en Euskadi (Euskadi Adventure) (written 1982).
   Sastre has taken subjects from Spain's past, as in Crónicas romanas (Roman Chronicles) (written 1968, banned, produced 1982), based plays on classical models, like Euripides" Medea, and adapted the works of several foreign playwrights (Langston Hughes" Mulatto, Büchner's Woyzeck, O'Casey's The Shadow of a Gunman), to create a theatre of social and political immediacy. Like the political theatre of Brecht and Piscator, Sastre's work promotes an oppositional stance as a means towards solving social inequity and political injustice.
   Further reading
   - Anderson, F. (1971) Alfonso Sastre, New York: Twayne Publishers (an excellent study of the general evolution of Sastre's early theatre).
   - Bryan, T.A. (1982). Censorship and Social Conflict in the Spanish Theatre: The Case of Alfonso Sastre, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America (discussion of the controversial nature of Sastre's life and work).
   - Sastre, A. (1956). Drama y sociedad, Madrid: Taurus (an excellent account of Sastre's views on the sociological importance of drama).
   —— (1992) Prolegómenos a un teatro del porvenir: teoría del drama, Hondarribia: Hiru (a collection of theoretical essays about theatre).
   JOHN P. GABRIELE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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