He was busy writing when I entered the café and walked up to his table hesitantly. “Are you David Maler, the theater director?” We had agreed to meet in the
La Paz bar-café in Buenos Aires,
still a hang-out for artists and egg-heads. The subject? “American Dreams and
an Elephant” and the more evasive subject of theater, how actors are like
magicians because they create something from nothing.
“My name is David Maler, I’m 23 years old and I’m from the Dominican Republic. I was born in a little fisherman’s village on the southeast of the island. A very picturesque place, no more than 500 people, and my father is an artist and maybe that’s why he chose the place—no electricity, no television, no phones. I grew up there but also travelled around with him and so I have lived in very contrasting environments.
“And then somewhere along the line theater appeared...”
“I was a pretty lazy student, really laid back, but then the school would put on its year end shows and that was the only time I would work as hard as I could. It seemed to come naturally. Then when I was 16 I did a musical—Jesus Christ Superstar. It wasn’t a big production but I would drive two hours to take lessons with a singing coach. And I realized that that was the first time I really wanted to work for something.
“What kind of theater inspires you?”
“Before I graduated I came across through a friend of my father’s an amazing theater coach, called Jack Walter, from the Actor’s Studio in New York. He comes from Method and studied with Lee Strasberg and other key figures in the theater world but developed his own approach. So that’s my way to work usually but this play—American Dreams and an Elephant, being played at the El Tinglado teatro in Buenos Aires City—is diffirent because it is a comedy. I do love Russian playwrites though, for all of the dark turmoil that appears in their plays.
“Perhaps we might refer also to the internal effect that theater has had on you.”
“We all grow up supressing so many things, but theater has that almost therapeutic effect of allowing those emotions to flow that you have been holding back for so long, although I have always felt that the line should be very clearly established between psychology and theater.”
“Where did the idea for the show come from?”
“Well, Dennis Weisbrot, the author, went to see a play I was acting in. Later on we began working together. But initially “American Dreams” was directed by a woman. A problem appeared concerning the need to adapt the play. It could be presented in any city at any time, but the danger is the possible loss of the strong criticism it includes for U.S. society. Anyway, I dropped out of the project for a while but kept in touch with Dennis. Five or six months ago he called me up and said listen I want to start this up again and asked me if I wanted to direct the play. I re-read it and, well, I was a bit nervious because I had never directed a play before that. So I read it and re-read it until five O’Clock in the morning and then called him up and said: “I’ll do it.” That’s how it all started. “
“How did you go about it?”
“Initially the idea was that everyone would direct his own sketch. But there had to be someone to make sure that a line went through the whole thing. It’s difficult because the show is not lineal: you have four sketches, each completely different. I received a lot of help from the actors telling me how they saw their roles in each scene.”
“In your opinion what is the underlying idea in the four sketches?”
“It has to due with the processes that are taking place in U.S. society, so if you are northamerican you can relate to it more but I think a lot of the processes are happening all over the world, globalization, alienation, what is happening at the workplace, information, technology, the effects of war and what that is going to mean for future generations. The show touches on all of these taboo things which are there but we don’t really talk about them. “
“The show appears to have many different messages, not only what is in the script...”
“It isn’t just saying the lines but how you say them. The characters are very cartoonish. Physically we had to make clear to the audience what kind of characters we are dealing with. That called for over the top actions, and stress on physical actions, on small details, on the movement of the hand, how the actors look at the audience, pauses, silences. As they say, the eyes are the windows of the soul and in this case it was extremely important to seek complicity with the audience in circumstances that are very uncomfortable. It is as if the characters were seeking approval. One thing that appears frequently in the sketches is ritual, how actions are repeated robot like and that is a good technique for comedy.”
David Maler, director of “American Dreams and an Elephant.”
On stage Wednesdays at 8pm at the El Tinglado teatro in Buenos Aires City, 948 Mario Bravo. Booking: 4863 1188.