December 17, 2017

Maria Norman, theatre director

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

‘BA theatre has what it takes to compete with New York’

By Luciana Ekdesman
Herald Staff

New York, March 24
Origin: French mother, Spanish father; both raised in Puerto Rico.
Studies: New York University, Uta Hagen at HB Studios, Lee Strasberg at Actors Studio, direction with José Ferrer.
Newspapers: La Nación, Clarín
Social networks: Facebook, 15 minutes per day .

In a spring-like day in early August, a New Yorker sat in a traditional porteño café to talk with the Herald about her experience as an actress, writer and director. For those who don’t know her, Maria Norman can be easily mistaken for an Argentine woman — and not for her name. Norman came to Buenos Aires for the first time eight years ago looking for a change and she fell for the country. So much so that she recently made her debut as a director in Argentina with Rich Women, starring Viviana Saccone and Fabián Mazzei at the Chacarerean Theatre.

Why did you choose Buenos Aires for the world premiere of Rich Women?

Cuban writer Eduardo Machado produced more than 60 works; most of them deal with Latin — mostly Cuban — topics but he also had a certain European sophistication. Machado wrote lots of plays which haven’t been done in the US, where every time an authentic author who has Latin roots emerges, they are immediately pigeonholed and nobody pays them the attention they deserve, unlike US authors who write about any nationality. I have always wanted to direct one of Machado’s plays with a more universal topic, such as Rich Women.

What do you like about the play?

This is the story of two characters who have a business relationship, but also quite a perverse one. Though they are perverse and hurt due to what they suffered in their youth, you feel certain empathy for them. I relate to each of them in some degree and the audience surely does as well. Because of the way the society is, because of what we expect from our life, we want to succeed and to be recognized by others for our talent and personal value, and sometimes we don’t behave with the correct ethics. Everything in this play is about subtext and that makes it difficult and interesting. The female character, Ana, has a rich line: “I’m not a rich, bored, kept woman.” However, she is exactly that.

In some part of the play, she says that rich women support New York arts. Is this true?

Throughout the history of the world, big artists have had patrons — even Da Vinci. There are very famous women, such as Katharine Graham, Gloria Vanderbilt and Brooke Astor, to name just a few, who, in spite of being rich, have built true careers and turned into “guardian angels,” supporting and enriching the arts in the US. But the Ana of the play, though she would want to be part of that exclusive cast, has no idea how to do it. Her difficult childhood and what she has achieved in life — marriage to a man who knows to make money — has become for her a fantasy which is completely different from what that status demands.

Can Buenos Aires theatre compete with New York?

Absolutely! Buenos Aires theatre has what it takes to compete with New York. There are great actors here like Mauricio Dayub and Norma (Aleandro). She doesn’t remember but I met her in 1985 in New York because I was shooting a film and I interviewed her. She is well-known and respected here. Theatre in Buenos Aires is very good and it’s an honour for me to be part of it. Saccone is tremendous and Mazzei is a lion. It has been a pleasure to work with them.

When did you start the rehearsals?

Well, that is quite different from the US. I was flabbergasted when somebody told me that actors here work four to five hours per day. I’m used to working seven hours and for long stretches — like three months. Here it’s fewer hours and fewer months of rehearsals. We worked for ten weeks — for you it’s a lot and for me it is a short time. The actors have reached a certain level and now the play will grow much more. It takes a lot of time for a play with only two people on stage to find those moments, pauses, looks, and everything is about subtext.

You said that Machado was typecast as a Latin writer in the US. Does the same happen with actors? Are Latin actors cast into stereotypes or can they reach beyond those categories?

It’s quite difficult. I worked as an actress for 10 years. When I began on the US scene I didn’t tell that I was Latin. Then I joined Teatro Rodante Portorriqueño and Repertorio Español to make a living. In New York, you compete against people from the entire world. When I began to perform in Latin theatre, I wasn’t called for other roles. I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but I got bored. Since I wasn’t the leading lady, I wasn’t interested in the work. I began directing, writing and making films. For me, it was a way to set my own limits. I don’t like a system to tell me: “as you are Latin, you can only play a Latin character.”

In a recent interview, local actor Ricardo Darín confessed he had rejected a role in the Hollywood film Man on Fire, because, among other things, he was offered the role of a Mexican drug dealer…

I’m proud of him because that’s a common mistake many make. We have incredible actors who haven’t fallen into that trap, but many others have because they need to make a living. Latins are also doing a great job in New York, they are overcoming many difficulties and producing their own works. Darín will be offered the role he really deserves. I believe that, just as it happened with soccer — the US has never been as interested as it was in this year’s World Cup — the businessmen saw a great chance to make money. They saw the whole world involved in something fantastic. I think actors will be working in different countries. My dream is to take Argentine plays to New York and to perform in a place like the Lincoln Centre.

Do you have any other project in Argentina?

Yes, I do. A semi-musical play called La canción de Víctor. It is the story of an unsuccessful tango singer and his daughter, two different generations of musicians. I’m working it with María Antonieta Eyras. We are also developing Argentine playwrights’ works and I want to learn more about that world.

Have you already become a porteña?

Me, me, me? A little. And I love it!


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