Mario Conde according to Abilio Estévez, to the rhythm of the bolero

The popular character, created by the genius of Leonardo Padura, is now living his best patch of luck on Barcelona’s stages.

Foto: Cortesía de la autora

There is absolutely no doubt that Mario Conde is a lucky guy. In spite of his disastrous life and his already incurable tendency to comb the darkest sides of society, the popular character created by writer Leonardo Padura is not only winning over readers, but lately he has also started living other lives, always parallel, which have taken him from literature to cinema and television, led by Spanish director Félix Viscarret.

Played by the most international of Cuban actors, Jorge Perugorría, Conde will reach the movie theatres in Spain in September, with a film based on the novel Vientos de Cuaresma (Havana Gold) and whose adaptation is called Vientos de La Habana (Havana Winds).


And while the announcement of the premiere of the TV miniseries “Las cuatroestaciones” (The Four Seasons) is still being expected, Conde had a stroke of good luck when the theatre programme of the Casa AméricaCatalunya, E299SCENA, proposed to renowned Cuban writer and playwright Abilio Estévez, living in Spain for several years, to make the adaptation of one of the novels portrayed by the ex-detective.It’s worthwhile recalling that Abilio is not just considered one of the island’s most important contemporary playwrights but he has also become a solid internationally recognised writer since the publication by Tusquets publishers of his first novel, Tuyoes el reino (Yours is the Kingdom).

Technical specificationsAuthor: Leonardo Padura

Playwright: Abilio Estévez

Direction: Alfredo Alonso

Actors: Viviani Godoy, Abril Hernández, Martín Brassesco and Eloi Benet

Production: Casa AméricaCatalunya


Meanwhile, the Casa AméricaCatalunya, founded in 2011, maintains a daily programming open to the public that between May and June has been dedicated to Cuba, apropos the new scenarios opened with the reestablishment of relations between the island and the United States. One of these events was the inauguration of an exhibit under the suggestive title of “My uncle is not called Sam. The U.S. in Cuban graphics,” which groups together a wide-ranging display of billboards and posters made on the island reflecting diverse moments of the difficult relations between the two countries in the last 50 years.


The curator of the interesting exhibit was specialist Alfons González, who also served as the host for Leonardo Padura, invited by Casa AméricaCatalunya to give a talk about his work. The author presented and signed copies of his most recent book, RegresoaItaca (Return to Ithaca), which includes the script of the film by the same name directed by him and French director Laurent Cantet.


20160526_220752Of all the novels in which Mario Conde starred, the one chosen to be put on stage was La neblina del ayer (Havana Fever), since as Abilio confesses, that entire world of the former Havana nights still seduces him a lot. Perhaps because when he was a child he saw his uncle, who was a butcher, get dressed up entirely in white every night to go to the Parisien Cabaret, the Alí Bar, Marianao Beach…. And those trips, seen from a child’s perspective, seemed to him like a wonderful mystery. Or perhaps because in his home in Marianao they listened to boleros, tangos, Mexican music; or because in the corner grocery store there was a gramophone, and once in a while El Beny would go there to play dice. In addition, because, according to Abilio, “that novel is very dramatic.”


Though the organisers have warned, in the invitations issued for the premiere, that it is a “dramatized reading of La neblina del ayer,” the announcement is deceptive: actually, Abilio has taken all the creative liberty to write his peculiar version of this novel by Leonardo Padura.


According to the writer, one of the initial concerns was that none of the actors would be Cuban, but it was precisely this element which suggested that he abandon the realism and resort to the theatre game to justify the different accents and achieve a more credible material.


Abilio said that another of the big problems to be resolved was the translation of the detective plot into the theatre text. But perhaps his most daring bet, and undoubtedly a complete success, was introducing in the adaptation “a tone of musical comedy,which could even be more accentuated, with which it was possible to emphasize other aspects that weren’t exactly the police investigation,” Abilio explains.


However, at the risk of being too absolute and therefore being mistaken, I consider that only theatre and the exquisite talent of a director like Abilio Estévez could be allowed such a “different” view of Mario Conde, without this meaning an absolute “betrayal” of the character and the work of Padura.


The production, in charge of the also Cuban Alfredo Alonso, is minimalist and functional, though it is also creative. With their interpretation the actors are able make spectators disregard their diverse accents from any part of the American continent or Spain. There is humour, though the most nostalgic – and even romantic – fibre of Conde has been strengthened when the eternal bolero takes over the stage, overpowering the most nostalgic fogs of yesterday. The detective story has been deconstructed, but the taste of the suspense characteristic of the genre has remained. And no matter how incredible it may seem, with all those elements in favour (or against), all of a sudden one starts to feel that that gap is being opened in time to bring back to the Barcelona night a little of that old Havana.


As I said, Mario Conde is living his best patch of luck.

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