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World premiere of Teatro Bundia’s ‘Pedro Paramo’ probes tyranny, memory

Raquel Carrio left FlorLauten right Chicago Ill. Wednesday March 13 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Raquel Carrio, left, and Flora Lauten, right, in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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◆ March 22-31

◆ Goodman Theater, 170 N. Dearborn

◆ Tickets, $14-$32

◆ (312) 443-3800;

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Updated: March 23, 2013 12:21PM

“I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go see him. I squeezed her hands as a sign I would do it. She was near death, and I would have promised her anything.”

—Opening lines of Juan Rulfo’s “Pedro Paramo”

Few readers in this country know the name of Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), the Mexican magical realist writer. Yet his slender novel, “Pedro Paramo” (a rough translation is “Peter Wasteland”), won high praise from such master storytellers of Latin America as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorges Borges. And since it was first published in 1955 it has sold millions of copies throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond.

Now, Rulfo’s story is about to take on a new dimension as it receives its world premiere stage adaptation by Teatro Buendia, the internationally acclaimed company from Havana, Cuba. The production, running March 22-31 at the Goodman Theatre, is a centerpiece of this season’s Latino Theatre Festival, and is being presented in collaboration with Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Performed in Spanish (with English subtitles), the show is directed by Flora Lauten and adapted by Raquel Carrio, whose acclaimed Teatro Buendia productions of “La Visita de la Vieja Dama” and “Charenton” were part of the Goodman’s 2010 Latino Theatre Festival. Most notably, the show will feature a cast comprised of six Cuban actors, and five Chicago actors — Charin Alvarez, Steve Casillas, Laura Crotte, and Sandra Delgado, with Henry Godinez, curator of the Latino festival, in the title role.

The actors workshopped the production in Chicago last year, and more recently spent three weeks together in Cuba collaborating on Rulfo’s multifaceted tale of life and death, memory and dreams, love and war and the enduring agony of tyrannical power.

“Rulfo’s book is iconic in Latin America,” said Lauten. “And while it is specific to that place, it is universal in many of its concerns. It looks at poverty, revolution, madness and death, but also at love, beauty, passion. And we always shape our script and music to reflect the actors we are working with. That is crucial and in this case it meant people with Cuban and Mexican backgrounds, and Chicagoans born here but with immigrant roots.”

The music for the show will be a mix of Cuban, Mexican and Spanish songs, to be played live by Jomary Hechavarría (a pianist from Cuba), and Victor Pichardo (on guitar) and Zacbe Pichardo (on harp),the father-and-son from the Grammy-nominated Chicago-based band, Sones de Mexico.

“The story is set in a mythological time, yet a familiar one, and the language is simple but very poetic,” said Lauten. “Pedro is a common figure in Mexico — a local dictator who is very rich and controls all aspects of life. Yet while he is cruel and corrupt, we also see another side of him. And this paradoxical aspect — the love he has for one woman, and the kindness he can show to her — is very important to me.”

“The history of Comala, the town Pedro ruled over, is narrated by many different voices,” said Carrio, founder of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Arts in Havana, and Lauten’s artistic collaborator at Buendia since they founded it in 1986, and remodeled an abandoned Greek Orthodox church to be their theater.

“The play does not have a linear narrative. It’s a big collage that goes back and forth in time. And much of what Pedro’s son finds is a ghost town — something suggested by the costumes which are made of mesh heavily glued with sand. They become elements of scenery, too,” Lauten said.

“We haven’t really changed Rulfo’s story, but we’ve underlined a few themes. In the novel the mother is not an immigrant, but in the play she does cross the border between Mexico and the United States. The story is rooted in a time after the Mexican Revolution, with the issue of land redistribution — which continues to be a huge problem for the poor — still unresolved.”

And what about Cuba now?

“There have been changes in the economy, the immigration laws, the ability to sell a house or open a restaurant,” said Lauten. “But our theater has never been bothered. As a group we’ve always had freedom to express ourselves. And what we do is not sugar-coated, though it IS very metaphorical theater. We’ve also been lucky to have gained an international reputation which has earned us respect. And of course Cuba is our place. It’s where our audience is.”

Lauten and Carrio are hoping to produce “Pedro Paramo” in Cuba, and are thinking about future productions — of Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” and Shakespeare. But well before that is the 100th birthday to be staged for Lauten’s mother, complete with mariachi band.

So what is that woman’s secret for longevity?

“She has a beer every morning, and a drink of rum every afternoon,” said the director

NOTE: “Pedro Paramo” contains nudity.

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