“This house has to be torn down!”
Drink, in ‘The night of the murderers’, by Pepe Triana
14ymedio, Madrid, Yunior García Aguilera, December 21 2021 — In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet one of the greatest Cuban playwrights of all time: José Triana. I found myself visiting London for the premiere of Feast, a show that five authors from five countries wrote for the Royal Court Theater. Triana, for his part, was attending a dramatized reading of one of his scripts. A friend had gotten me two tickets to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the last minute, so I convinced the young translator who accompanied me everywhere in London and we ran to meet the famous author of The Night of the Assassins.
“Cuban from Cuba or from Miami?” Pepe said with a tone that he had surely used before. “From Holguín,” I replied, “although I live in Havana.” Triana analyzed me from head to toe in two seconds pondering things that he never said out loud, but that I could guess. A strange mixture of suspicions occurs when two Cuban colleagues meet in another corner of the planet. He had a ton of British admirers waiting for him for tea at a nearby coffee shop, but he took the risk of inviting me. I wanted to hear first-hand news about the theatrical union and, above all, I wanted to know what a young man like me thought about the reality of the Island.
At that time I had written texts such as Sangre, Asco and Semen,
which were totally critical of the dictatorship, but I felt comfortable being a “rebellious” author, who was still allowed some freedoms as long as he did not cross an imprecise and invisible line. Overflowing with optimism, I spoke to him about changes, openings and tolerance. I assured him that it was possible to speak more fluently about the Quinquenio Gris [Five Grey Years], the parametración, and UMAP.
I excitedly told him about the premiere of The Seven Against Thebes, that work by Arrufat that waited forty years to go on stage in Cuba. I even told him that I was sure that he was in no danger if he decided to return to meet again with his colleagues and with his audience. Triana put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a long look before speaking. “Yunior – he said in a low and slow voice – many of those who wanted to destroy me… are still alive, still there and still with power. Nothing has changed.”
I did not want to insist. His gaze was an end point for that topic of the chat. He smiled again and avoided using those phrases that inform a youth that you are naive. I preferred to try to convince him with actions from a distance. I proposed his name several times for the National Theater Award, for his life’s work. I wanted to dedicate an edition of the National Youth Theater Festival that our group organized from Holguín. I tried to send him various messages, in many ways and through various mutual friends. We did not see each other again.
Pepe Triana is now dead and never received the National Theater Award. I crossed that invisible and imprecise line at some point. I lived through interrogations and discrediting campaigns, I was thrown into a garbage truck, I ended up in jail, I suffered acts of repudiation, pigeons were beheaded at my door, they threatened my family, they intimidated my friends, they forced me to leave. Today my theater group in Cuba has been closed and my works are prohibited. Today I am for them one more worm, a traitor, an enemy of the people.
I would like to meet Pepe again in a London cafe under a persistent drizzle. I would like to tell him that I have been healed a little of that naivety that I harbored in my mind, tongue and chest. It would be a pleasure to tell him that I am already part of the honorable list of authors that the dictatorship tries to silence. I would love to confess: You were right, Pepe, nothing has changed. It may even be worse. But we continue, like your characters, trying to bring down the house, to raise it again… without reproach.
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