Benet i Jornet, Josep Maria

Benet i Jornet, Josep Maria
b. 1940, Barcelona
   Playwright
   Benet i Jornet is probably the most important Catalan playwright since the Civil War. His early plays have a clear socio-political content, and are influenced by Brecht and Epic Theatre. His first play, Una vella, coneguda olor (An Old, Familiar Smell), which received the Josep M. de Sagarra theatre prize in 1963, presents the hopeless life of the lower classes in post-Civil War Catalonia. It has the same importance for Catalan drama as Antonio Buero Vallejo's Historia de una escalera (Story of a Staircase) did for its Castilian counterpart. Benet's plays became more complex after the early 1970s, and there is less emphasis on social issues. A case in point is Revolta de bruixes (Witches" Revolt), which was first published in 1975 and which provided Benet with his first public and critical success outside Catalonia when it was performed in Madrid in 1980. The ethos of this play and of El manuscrit d'Alí Bei (Ali Bey's Manuscript) (1984) is different from that of social realism in that they suggest the impossibility of changing the world in which we live.
   The performance of El manuscrit d'Alí Bei at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona in 1988 marked the end of Benet's feud with this important theatre over their alleged favouring of foreign drama at the expense of Catalan playwrights, and finally established Benet's reputation with both public and critics. Further hits followed with ¡Ai, carai! (Well I'm Blowed!), which was also performed at the Lliure in 1988, and Desig (Desire), which received the 1991 Catalan Literature National Prize, and was directed by Sergi Belbel. Desig marks the beginning of a new period in Benet's drama. It deals with the lack of communication between individuals through the creation of complex layers of time and space, and reveals the influence of Pinter, Mamet, Koltès and Beckett. Public and critical reception of Benet's plays reflect not only their quality but also changing tastes among Catalan theatre-goers. Una vella, coneguda olor suited the prevailing taste for social realism, at least in left-wing circles. This taste had changed by the early 1970s, and reviewers had little sympathy with Berenàveu a les fosques (You Were Having Tea in the Dark) on its first professional performance in 1973. Around this time, text-based plays by individual authors were going out of fashion in favour of collective creation in which staging was given greater prominence. The rise of such performance groups as Els Joglars and Els Comediants in Catalonia parallels the relative demise of dramatists like Benet, while the reestablishment of text-based theatre in Catalonia (and in Europe generally) in the mid- and late- 1980s coincided with the critical praise which has once more been afforded to Benet's work.
   See also: Catalan culture; theatre
   Further reading
   - Sirera, R. (1996) "Drama and Society", in D. George and J.London (eds) An Introduction to Contemporary Catalan Theatre, Sheffield: Anglo-Catalan Society (sets Benet in the context of post-Civil War Catalan social drama; the only introduction to his work in English).
   DAVID GEORGE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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