July 23, 2014
Sons and mothers: the stage tribute
For The Herald
The theatre is empty. The members of the audience are guided downstage through a door at one side of the stage and then they arrive to the downstage area. Several chairs and a lectern are placed on the otherwise empty acting space. The viewers chose their chairs and sit. When the seats are all taken, the lecture begins as soon as a portly gentleman — Antonio Leiva — enters and starts speaking. The reason is a tribute he will pay to his departed mother — and so the action, a lecture on the role of mothers in today’s society begins, like a counterpoint between there and then and here and now.
In El húerfano feliz, the monologue is interrupted at times by a “memory coach” who sits on the first row of the audience. His raison d’être is to assist the speaker if and when his memory fails him. A useful presence he turns out to be. After enlightening the public on the etymology of the word “mother,” providing several examples in as many languages, he proceeds to remember his mum.
Who happens to be his real mother, who gave birth to him in 1945 and died in 2007. She was 40 years younger than her husband Adtano, who sired only one son and one daughter, Antonio and Rosa. He was a serious-minded gentleman who worked in the now-non existent State penitentiary, presently Parque Las Heras, quite near the family’s home. Life was not glamorous in the Leiva’s home, but it was bearable, with a stark father and a mother who was quite a character. He was a radical and she was a fervid Peronist, a fan of Evita, president Peron’s young wife, adored by the people, who once had a part in little Antonio’s life. Evita once gave the boy, then two years old, a bicycle he won in a fancy dress contest (he was a Basque milkman) sponsored by the government. The second, less happy occasion was when his mother took him to see the dead icon in her coffin, in 1952.
Life went by uneventfully but with colourful patches until Leiva Sr. died. Time went by and his widow married a greengrocer, then a tango singer and finally a plumber. Life and the lecture go on until the lady’s life ends after having provided a number of picturesque, often moving and amusing anecdotes.
Leiva is the writer, director and star of this story, assisted by Juan Carlos Ucello, as the “memory coach,” and guitarist Leonardo Soldano. The Happy Orphan is an entertaining and sympathetic, well managed piece, most intimately presented, since the not very large audience sit with their backs to the otherwise empty theatre. A pleasant and original idea.
Where and when
Empire – Hipólito Yrigoyen 1934. Last performance on Friday at 9pm. Tickets from 80 pesos.