Celestina, interpreted by Ricardo Iniesta and TNT Atalaya (Madrid, Teatro Pavón, 17th May 2015)

The last time I saw Celestina on stage, in the 2012 adaptation by Eduardo Galán, I had the impression the director had been deeply impressed by Martín de Riquer’s article on the opening scene taking place in a church1. This time I feel it has been Alan Deyermond’s “Hilado > Cordón > Cadena” which has greatly influenced Ricardo Iniesta’s adaptation2, as I think can be clearly seen in the staging of his version of Celestina. The blood-red skein becomes central during Celestina’s spell, who tangles and untangles it with her hands several times, and it is used to wrap and enclose Melibea during her talk with the old go-between. After that, Melibea’s girdle (a handkerchief in this version) is portrayed as a piece of bait Celestina moves in front of Calisto and has the same mesmerising effect as the skein had on Melibea. Finally, Calisto’s extra-long golden chain resembles very much the thread and the girdle, and not only does Celestina tangle it around her hands, but the servants Pármeno and Sempronio find it miraculously directly after her death, just before being executed, as if the sequence described by Alan Deyermond needed the addition of this discovery to be complete.

However, in my opinion, Eduardo Galán as well as Ricardo Iniesta have not been coherent with their critical choices. While the former did not put as much emphasis on the religio amoris as Martín de Riquer’s article demands, Ricardo Iniesta does not portray Melibea as a victim of the diabolic influence of Celestina and her skein, but as a self-conscious woman infatuated with Calisto from the opening scene which fakes and even overdoes her elusiveness and modesty. This does not fit very well with the importance given to the blood-red thread and, consequently, to the Devil in the staging, although I have to admit that it was visually and aesthetically powerful.

Iniesta’s version of Celestina empowers the low-life characters and, particularly, women. The subversion of the religio amoris and of courtly amatory conventions are omitted, therefore, Calisto’s role is reduced to its minimum expression. As a consequence, this adaptation seems highly secular and sexual, even sordid sometimes. This impression is supported by the comic reinforcement of certain moments, my favourite one being the accelerated Benny-Hill-like scene of Parmeno’s night with Areúsa, which reflected very well its being a mere formality for Pármeno to commit to support Celestina and Sempronio, and its playful tone. However, the emphasis on the comic aspect impoverishes the character of Lucrecia, who is portrayed as a fifteenth-century version of the not-so-naive servants played by Gracita Morales, contributing to the vaudeville-like atmosphere of certain scenes but forgetting that she is a teenager with as much appetite for life as the other characters.

Another aspect that contributes to the sordid tone is the absence of Melibea’s parents. From my perspective, this could have been the most original and valuable aspect of Ricardo Iniesta’s adaptation, as it could have turned into the modern equivalent of the unease feeling raised by the apparent God’s absence in the original. However, this genial feature is destroyed by Pleberio declaiming his famous monologue at the end. Had it been omitted, as many other important scenes have been, Melibea’s suicide would have been perceived as an absolutely intrascendent and empty act, maybe the act of a young girl with parent issues, leaving the audience confused and disturbed because of the emptiness of her sacrifice and because of their expectations -Pleberio’s monologue- being frustrated. But when Pleberio starts talking the audience is taken back from a world of insignificance and confronted with consequences, unfortunately not in a form they can be moved but in a form they can feel comfortable with.

Something similar happens with the reduction of the garden scene from two to one. Both meetings are merged into one but, unlike in the Comedia, this only night of love does not convey a feeling of inevitability and/or tragedy. Not in vain, the religio amoris and the courtly customs being omitted, this scene is reduced to hasty sexual intercourse, which portrays Melibea as a sexually active woman but does not explain why she would commit suicide because of Calisto’s death, her interest in him being focused in his sexual prowess (easy to replace) and she not being worried about her virginity or future fame. Her suicide does not fit with her characterisation as a self-conscious woman and, should her death not be justified as the result of the Devil’s influence, I can only think of need of (male) attention as the cause. However, the melting of all Centurio’s appearances the same scene works very well, even if the audience does not really get to know why Elicia and Areúsa are aware of the day and the time Calisto and Melibea are going to meet.

This takes me to the question of the textual adaptation. According to the programme, Ricardo Iniesta cropped the original on account of his particular vision of the characters and his will to give a central role to low-life characters. Regardless of my personal opinion on his choices, his interpretation of Celestina justifies the omission and the manipulation of certain scenes and contents. However, I do not feel this justifies the linguistic adaptation of the original text. Besides occasions in which the text is modernised for the sake of brevity -a main feature of Iniesta’s adaptation, which is not much longer than 90 minutes-, the script alternates archaic and modern Spanish incoherently. Absolutely understandable expressions of the original text are modernised, while freshly written fragments are given an archaic tone. Even the “valle de lágrimas” is turned into a “infierno de desdichas” (or something similar), and Celestina wants to “platicar” with Alisa; a verb that I do not remember being used in Celestina. Other linguistic adaptations seem oriented to simplify the text and to clarify its meaning, but sometimes they are so extreme that the comprehension ability of the audience seems to be questioned. In general, this was the aspect that most disturbed me and the reason why I did not like the show at all.

From the perspective of the performance, leaving aside my personal disgust for scenes choreographed with an excess of body expression, commedia dell’arte and dance elements, the actors made the best of Ricardo Iniesta’s concept. Celestina (Carmen Gallardo) and the prostitutes (Lidia Mauduit and María Sanz) were particularly powerful, cheeky and conscious of their characters’ environment and feelings. Great moment when Areúsa realises that she misses Pármeno, something she had not expected. Among the men, and despite his somehow blurred pronunciation, Manuel Asensio made a good Sempronio, more simple as usual, and a perfect caricature of Centurio. In general, the comic aspect being given so much weight and it being rather of the histrionic kind, the best moments of the play were the farcical ones. The musical breaks were beautiful, but I did not feel they contributed to the atmosphere, perhaps because I could only understand a few words in Italian and in Galician, although anybody could distinguish their being traditional songs.

To sum up, as a spectator but, above all, as someone used to working with the original phrasing of Celestina, I did not like Ricardo Iniesta’s textual adaptation in the slightest. However, I think that the actors made a good job with what they were given and that the staging was aesthetically powerful, despite my differences with minimalism and with the focus on dynamism. In addition, although I got terribly angry during the representation, I have to admit that I did not get bored at all because this version of Celestina is particularly short and intense. Therefore, I think most people will enjoy it, but I personally do not agree with Ricardo Iniesta’s interpretation of the work.

1 Riquer, Martín de (1957), “Fernando de Rojas y el primer acto de La Celestina“, Revista de Filología Española 41, 69-83. Available on-line.
2 Deyermond, Alan D. (1977), “Hilado – Cordón – Cadena. Symbolic equivalence in La Celestina“, Celestinesca 1-1, 6-12. Available on-line.


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