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Pedro and the Captain: A Playby Mario Benedetti
Though long revered throughout Latin America, when Mario Benedetti passed away in 2009, the great Uruguayan novelist, poet, playwright, and journalist was little known to the English-speaking world. Few, quite unfortunately, of his over 75 works are available in translation. What has been published in English, however, is simply breathtaking. (His Blood Pact and Other Stories may well be the finest collection of short stories I've ever read). With a new collection of his stories (The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories) set to be published this July, perhaps the late Benedetti will find favor with a newer audience.
Now over 30 years old (and finally available in English), Pedro and the Captain is a haunting, searing exploration into the psychology of torture. As with all timeless works, the play's harrowing subject matter is sadly as relevant now as when it was first conceived. No stranger to political repression himself (he was twice forced into exile), many of Benedetti's works were once banned in his native land.
Benedetti writes in the prologue:
[Pedro and the Captain] isn't a confrontation between a monster and a saint, but rather one between two men, two flesh and blood beings who both have their points of vulnerability and resistance. For the most part the distance between the two of them is ideological, and this perhaps holds the key to their other differences— the moral, the spiritual, the sensitivity to human pain, the complex terrain that lies between courage and cowardice, the lesser or greater capacity for sacrifice, the gap between betrayal and loyalty.As all of the play's physical torture takes place offstage between scenes, the conflict evolves solely through the dialogue. While a mere reading of the script is distressing enough, seeing it staged must be utterly arresting.
Pedro and the Captain is a powerful work that speaks to the unspeakable. By offering a glimpse into the hearts and minds of both men (the play's only characters) and foregoing the abstract terms with which torture is usually portrayed, the subject is made unavoidably personal, and to great effect. The reader, left to face torturer and tortured alike, is able to consider this abhorrent practice free of the usual ideological posturing. Yes, torture is reprehensible and illegal, but rather than offer mere moral pronouncements against it, Benedetti has created a stirring work of art that is much more thoughtful than it is reactionary.
Synopses & Reviews
Drama. Latino/Latina Studies. Translated from the Spanish by Adrianne Aron. A gripping dialogue between a torturer and his victim, PEDRO AND THE CAPTAIN takes place in an interrogation room, where lives are deconstructed by the violent hand of the terrorist state. Torture, the awesome force that mediates the action, never appears directly on the scene; likewise, the repressive state is never named. Benedetti captures the essence of this dehumanizing practice without assigning it precise location or time, which speaks to the universality of the abomination, whether in Uruguay's La Libertad or the USA's Abu Ghraib.
A four act play with only two characters, Pedro, incarcerated, and the Captain, who is his torturer.
About the Author
Mario Benedetti's vast body of work encompasses every genre and is known worldwide. He wrote for magazines, newspapers, and various periodicals and journals in Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. In addition, selections of his work are represented in anthologies published in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, England, Italy, United States, Israel, Venezuela, and Spain. In addition to a full-length study of 20th century Uruguayan literature, he wass the author of more than seventy-five books and his work has been translated into twenty-six languages, including Braille. From 1985, he lived in Montevideo where he devoted his full time to writing. Benedetti passed away May 17, 2009.
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