And the direction by Mr. Gimenez, not to mention his painterly use of lighting, should tell anyone 
why this man, who is not yet 40 years old, is considered the greatest director in Venezuela.

''They will not remember my ideas,'' Simon Bolivar cries out at the moment of his elevation into a godlike hero, ''and there will not be a shadow of the truth left about me, but only a statue.'' The sorrow that washes over one at that moment in ''Bolivar,'' presented by the Fundacion Rajatabla of Caracas, Venezuela, at the Festival Latino in the Public Theater, is a tribute to the dramatic vison of its author, Jose Antonio Rial, and its director, Carlos Gimenez. Their command of the audience's emotions in this revolutionary play is complete.

That is ironic, given that the play is a searing indictment of all authority. The concept is simple. Guards in a modern Latin American prison order their political prisoners to enact a dramatization of Bolivar's life to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1983. Inspired by a poet among them, they choose to depict not the Great Liberator in his glory but the sick Bolivar in his last days, in pain and tortured by doubt. ''What will history say of me?'' is an unnerving question from such a man. But it was in the minds of the prisoners, who put it in the mouth of the hero and the mouths of his friends and enemies, all of them questioning history and the reality behind it. Only a historian who appears at times to lecture everyone claims the authority to lead: ''The present must correct the past. You are to reduplicate the history I give you, and obey.'' But even he has to confess his authority derives only from power, announcing that ''order is here now, coming on black horses, surrounded by smoke and steel.''

But ''Bolivar'' is not just intellectual drama. As the prisoners' play proceeds and historical figures from the Spanish colonial past as well as from the turbulent present move in and out of it, the 18 episodes are punctuated by choruses sung to music reminiscent of passages in operas by Alberto Ginastera, the devotional music of Olivier Messaien and hymns of the Roman Catholic Church. At times the ragged jail uniforms of the prisoners are replaced by the armor of conquistadors, the regalia of viceroys and the billowing gowns of 19th-century socialites as the characters move among processions of candle bearers, altar boys swinging smoking incense pots and soldiers carrying huge flags brilliantly lit by horizontal shafts of light from the wings. The prisoners' play becomes a baroque oratorio.

The dramatic power of the religious symbolism saturating the play is enormous. Emerging out of the suffering of Bolivar is a vision of the passion of Jesus. The guards strip Bolivar naked, throw an old sheet over him like a cloak and throw dice at his feet while his historical enemies and competitors, ranked on benches like a panel of judges, fiercely hurl accusatory questions at him. As death approaches, his mistress, Manuela Saenz, washes his feet and wraps him in the sheet, like Jesus' shroud. Later, stripped and tortured herself, in a passionate recital of her love for Bolivar, she conjures up not only Mary Magdalene anointing Christ's feet, but the Virgin Mary holding her son's body.

Overall, ''Bolivar'' is a somber spectacle, but there are canny comic moments of political satire. Claims to virtuous authority by different officials tickle the audience. At one point an aged Manuela appears, reciting a litany of Bolivar's enemies and one realizes she is calling her dogs. And a little play within the play, in which three male prisoners dressed as rich women of Bolivar's time gossip about him, is hilarious.

Mr. Rial seems fond of plays within plays. The prisoners' play is a play within a play. And inside that, other little plays multiply until, like mirrored globes scattering light in a dance hall, they reflect the dramatist's ideas in so many directions it is impossible to catch them all. That is a weakness. In fact, the overall complexity of ''Bolivar'' is troubling. At several points, as characters from different eras confront one another, the viewer is left confused about the basic arguments of the play. And toward the end there is a series of repetitions of political arguments through successive moments of history that seem excessive. The complexity is probably greater than someone without Spanish can guess, since the playwright says he uses four levels of language. The Public supplied simultaneous translation through its infrared sound system, but no translation could convey that kind of subtlety.

The 19 actors of the Fundacion Rajatabla who perform this splendid theatrical spectacle are as disciplined, energetic and graceful a troupe as one is likely to see anywhere. Daniel Lopez as the poet, Pilar Romero as Manuela and Roberto Moll as Bolivar give performances that haunt the imagination. And the direction by Mr. Gimenez, not to mention his painterly use of lighting, should tell anyone why this man, who is not yet 40 years old, is considered the greatest director in Venezuela.

The Cast BOLIVAR, by Jose Antonio Rial; directed by Carlos Giménez; lighting by Mr. Gimenez; scenery and costumes by Silviainés Vallejo; production, Jose Tejera. Fundacion Rajatabla's production, presented by Joseph Papp. At Circle in the Square, 159 Bleecker Street.
Poet                                   Daniel Lopez
Samuel Robinson            Jose Tejera
Piar/Sucre                        Javier Zapata
Simon Bolivar                  Roberto Moll
Manuela Saenz                Pilar Romero
Mantuana                         Helena Naranjo
Mantuana                         Mira Parra
Woman soldier                Maria Elena Davila
Choir boys                       Luis Garban, Daniel Uribe and Juan Rodriguez
Choir boy/Mantuana       Jorge Luis Morales
The official/Bishop         Francisco Alfaro
The scholar                     Cosme Cortazar
Guards                             Pedro Pineda, Luis Malave, Anibal Grun and Robert Stoppello

Photo of a scene from ''Simon Bolivar'' (Miguel Gracia)

By D.J.R. Bruckner
The New York Times
 August 17, 1985

Source: The New York Times

Roberto Moll, PIlar Romero, María Brito

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