January 21, 2018

Mario Diament, playwright, journalist, professor

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

‘I have Buenos Aires in mind when I dream about premieres’

By Luciana Ekdesman
Herald Staff


Buenos Aires, April 17, 1942
Studies: chaotic and self-taught. Master’s Degree in Drama Writing (Antioch University, Ohio).
Current job: M.A. associate professor at the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Florida International University.
Newspapers: New York Times, Miami Herald, Wall Street Journal, La Nación, Clarín, an overview of Página/12, English and Israeli newspapers. Online media.

Playwright and journalist Mario Diament has been living since the 90s in Miami, where he teaches journalism in English and Spanish. Although he’s far away from his native country, he is always present on the theatre scene in Buenos Aires. This year, he broke a record with three simultaneous plays onstage: Cita a ciegas, Guayaquil and Tierra del fuego. This latest one focuses on a meeting between an Israeli flight attendant and a terrorist who attacked her 30 years ago. Diament talked to the Herald about theatre and politics.

Why do you think an independent play like Tierra del Fuego draws the attention of the audience for a second consecutive year?

Generally, when a play is successful and manages to captivate viewers it’s because it finds an echo in the concerns affecting a certain society. Apart from the merits of the play, it is difficult to find such an echo if the show isn’t provocative or moving. Today, the success could be more reasonable, but when Tierra del Fuego premiered, the conflict in the Middle East wasn’t as serious as it is now. Evidently, at the time associations were made with some of the lingering problems of Argentine society.

Which were these problems?

Argentine society is divided into two leanings that can’t seem to find a common ground. The play is about the need to listen to the other. That may have struck a chord with the audience, and I rather hoped it had.

Do you mean the lack of dialogue, for example?

Yes, I think so. I believe Argentine politics is completely polarized. The government does not listen to anyone else and the opposition does not make a great effort to listen to others. This condition gradually shifted to society itself: families are divided, friends are fighting. It’s an insane situation, where everything is either black or white, where the one who doesn’t think like me is my enemy.

You found Yulie Cohen, the real protagonist of the story you wrote. How did the encounter go and what did she say about your fictional story based on her life?

I felt that the story of Yulie Cohen was moving and also an interesting material to adapt for the stage. She had made some documentaries about her story. I believed she outlined the problem in a way that has a lot in common with what I felt about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also, I thought it extended beyond this particular conflict. There wasn’t much information available about her meeting with the terrorist. I found Yulie’s e-mail address and, once I finished the play, I sent it to her. She replied saying that she had liked the material very much and that, if she could collaborate, she would have been able to brush up the text and pin it down better. I told her that I preferred to do it that way because my story was fiction and I needed more freedom to write.

After finishing the show that I saw, lead actress Alejandra Darín talked to the audience and said two things: “If you liked the play, recommend it because independent theatre keeps going that way, and something much more important, that art is a tool that makes people think and reflect.” Do you agree with her?

As Yael — the leading character in Tierra del Fuego — does, this was a gesture, which doesn’t bring any other solution than to your own conflict, your own conscience, but may be it can inspire others. I think that art has the same role. It is important that, at the end of Tierra del Fuego, people leave the theatre thinking about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other similar conflicts from a wider perspective, a more human one, understanding that confrontation is not the way to go — least of all military confrontation.

You lived in Israel for some time and worked as correspondent during the Yom Kipur War and the Lebanon War. How do you see the current conflict?

I think it is a terrible tragedy, the result of the extreme mediocrity of the political leaders from both sides, a lack of vision, and a conviction that the only language that the enemy understands is force, which is a fallacy. The only possible solution is politics, negotiation and peace. The only solace that Israelis and Palestinians may find should come from a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

Do you think that an agreement can be reached in the near future?

I don’t know. I think that the world is tired of this conflict. Today’s ongoing campaign has caused such a horrifying number of casualties that the world will likely force Israel, the Palestinians and Hamas to enter into a strong negotiation. It is a very complex conflict where everything blends in a dangerous mix of clashes over territory, religious beliefs, the traumatic and the psychological facets. Each new Palestinian attack stirs up in Israelis — and in Jews from around the world — a feeling of immediate destruction and this, sometimes, leads to a disproportionate response.

Why did you move to the US?

I had a job offer at the Florida International University where I have been teaching for 21 years. I was directing El Cronista in Buenos Aires at the time. I wasn’t getting along too well with former president Carlos Saúl Menem’s administration and there was a lot of pressure from Eduardo Eurnekian — who, at the time, was the owner of El Cronista. When I got the proposal to come to the US to teach and conduct a research, I thought it was a good way out and travelled abroad. Later, they offered me the chance to stay here and to help create a Master in Journalism, which I did. I’ve been working on it since then.

Do you miss Argentina?

I don’t miss it because I travel a lot. Luckily, I have a good presence in Buenos Aires with three plays on stage — Tierra del Fuego, Cita a ciegas and Guayaquil, which will be restaged next week.

Are you contributing for any media?

I have written a column for La Nación for 13 years. Now I’m not writing for any media. I’m working on theatre and teaching. Those two tasks take up all my time so that I don’t need the “third leg.”

How do you get involved with the plays that are staged in Argentina?

My relationship is the same you would have with your family, although you are abroad. A premiere in Buenos Aires is THE premiere, THE test. There are lots of reasons why I care so much. Although there is like a myth to debut in Paris or London — in April 2015 Cita a ciegas premieres in Los Angeles and in January in Paris — Buenos Aires is the opinion that really matters to me and it’s what I think about when I finish writing a play.

Are you writing a play at this moment?

Yes, I do, but I prefer to keep it a secret.


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