Looking Into the Stands (Mirando al Tendido
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Venezuela
translated by Prof. Charles Philip Thomas
CAST: El Niño, the matador. Florentino, the bull.
SCENIC REQUIREMENTS: A bullring.
Looking Into the Stands is a theatrical meditation on death as well as life. Using the bullfight ritual, the symbolism associated with the arena spectacle, the bull and the matador face each other in a true tête-à-tête, wherein the roles are reversed and the hierarchies interchanged. It is the beast, in this case, who questions the worthiness of an announced and gratuitous death. The right to live, love and die a dignified death is akin to both, humans and beasts. It is, in fact, the tension between the grandiose dreams of a mediocre bullfighter and the simple desires of a sensitive bull which come together in the same ring as a metaphor of the dichotomy of life itself from a humanistic point of view. With a refined sense of humor, one of Santana's distinctive traits, the author delivers another play in which he uses death to make life triumph in all its splendor, but also in its simplicity.
Looking Into the Stands describes the events of a particular bullfight. There are only two characters, the bull and the matador. While the traditional pasodoble plays, signalling the beginning of the contest, El Niño prays to the patron saint of bullfighters, La Macarena.
As the relationship between the two characters develops we understand that the play portrays nothing less than their interdependence. Florentino recalls on several occasions the lessons passed on to him in his youth, all revolving around the bullfight. He speaks wistfully of the Blue Meadow, which comes to be compared to Heaven, ``only with cows'' he says.
Throughout the play, in fact, Florentino puts a critical eye to El Niño's methodology in the ring, criticizing him and the diminished condition of bullfighting, even going so far as to actually coach him. He speaks negatively of those bulls who do not believe in the ``grand struggle'' of the bullfight, who deliberately act as cowards in order to bypass the ring and go directly to the slaughterhouse. Although this may seem unbelievable at first, it becomes apparent that Florentino, and bulls in general, know they must die, but to die at the hand of an unglamorous, awkward, unrefined, matador is to die without honor. Consequently, we learn from the dialogue that Florentino is well educated in the history and etiquette of the ring and places his respect in both. It is, and perhaps this is the most important point he is trying to make, in the tradition of the bullfight that his imminent death makes sense.
El Niño, on the other hand, is pure ego. He ridicules the past to which his opponent refers as nothing more than ancient history. When the bull cites precedent and compares him to specific individuals, El Niño defends himself as an excellent bullfighter, as if saying it proves its validity. The issue of a bullfight columnist is particularly poignant here, as his column makes or breaks a matador. Florentino says the columnist is corrupt and easily bribed, and if this is so, then what is greatness? Is it something to be achieved in the ring or the ability to cop a big check? According to Florentino, this was not always so, and refers to the paintings of Goya as examples of the ring's once artistic stature. The greatness of bullfighting has been lost and is now only a ``miserable and dirty catechism.''
The only history which El Niño seems to remember is that he is victorious and the bull must die, those are the ``rules'' to which he refers. Just as Florentino's death is honorless without a refined and skilled bullfighter to administer the coup de grace, El Niño's victory would ring hollow should his opponent prove to be without stamina, ferocity, and valiance. Mirroring the coaching he received from the bull, the matador delivers encouragement.
It is not until El Niño develops a respect for the role played by Florentino in his success, that the bull resigns himself to the fate to which his role leads. Having successfully transformed El Niño into a true matador, he may die with honor. The chance to die with honor inspires Florentino to fulfill his destiny. Although a significant amount of the dialogue consists of the characters verbally abusing each other and throwing into question the beliefs held by the other, they realize that it is not an adversarial, but dependent relationship they share.
(Synopsis by Mario Ernesto Sánchez)