(from BOMB magazine, Spring 2013.)
Translated from Spanish by Mónica de la Torre
I was in Buenos Aires in July of 2012 and kept losing my handle on the place. What’s down is up, summer is winter, and vice versa. (As my de facto Jim Fletcher exclaimed, “It’s just like Borges!”) You’re in Latin America at times; at others, in New York City. If you squint at certain cityscapes, you would swear you were in Brussels or Vienna. We like to mash people and places into what we want them to be when, in fact, things are what they are.
The Argentine playwright-director Federico León has been recognized internationally for his rigorous and heartwarming work in theater and film for over a decade. I thought maybe I had a handle on his work, given that we might be the same age and we both direct the plays that we write. I thought this especially after seeing him premiere his show Las multitudes in La Plata, an hour’s drive from Buenos Aires, during my time there. Here, I saw a brokenhearted humanity tale on stage.
Las multitudes is a fable. The characters are archetypes: the grandfather, the mother, the ingenue . . . Yet, in León’s play, each character is played by a dozen people, with one designated leader for each character doing most, if not all, of the speaking.
In December I was able to chat with Federico for the first time. With Mónica de la Torre translating back and forth, I discovered the gaps in my knowledge and the fate of my assumptions. One thing I still think I’m right about: León is to theater what Springsteen is to music. First of all, I love Bruce. When I listen to his songs, I have a picture of who the heroes Frankie or Johnny are. Yet the creator himself is the personification of heroism. The same happens with Federico León: he doesn’t perform, but his realness as writer and director comes through in the work, heroic and unapologetic.
— Richard Maxwell