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Barranca abajo , his best known tragedy, is unquestionably an extraordinary work. Don Zoilo, the protagonist of this modern classic, is one of the first New World dramatic personages with the stature of a complex major character. The play, first performed in Buenos Aires in , and revived with almost perennial regularity, has proven itself to be an extremely successful piece of theater.

Indeed, its steady passage over the years from a quaint drama of the River Plate region to a place of permanence in the theatrical repertories of the Hispanic world suggests the presence of universal dramatic qualities. Although the continued theatrical success of the work has generated numerous reviews, the literary composition has been studied only in a most cursory fashion. This phenomenon is curious, since the play at its premiere prompted a basic question regarding its structure: Was the suicide of the protagonist in the final scene a satisfactory solution to the dramatic conflict?

At the time, critical concern was such that the ending was actually modified for the second performance. River Plate chauvinism continues to thwart dramatic criticism, and as a consequence, a serious literary question remains unanswered today: Do the various lines of dramatic action in Barranca abajo converge in such a way as to make the resolution in suicide inevitable?

How does Barranca abajo function as dramatic literature? What specific system of actions governs the character of Don Zoilo? Answers to these questions are long overdue. The plot, organized in three acts, is essentially expository. Don Zoilo, an aging rural patriarch, through the machinations of city lawyers loses his estate. Gradually, the love and respect of his sister, wife, and one of his daughters wanes; and they prepare to abandon him.

Finally, his youngest daughter dies, and in desperation and solitude he seeks an end to his own life. The principal action concerns the protagonist's repeated assertion of self in his various efforts to retain his patriarchal position. Estrangement and suicide result. The play's organization however, does not chronicle the process of the protagonist's fall, as does King Lear a work which Barranca abajo resembles in more than a superficial way, as will be discussed later.

Rather, the action is segmented, almost episodically, into discrete dramatic units. The familiar three-act pattern is therefore not causal, but expository; the effect is documentary. Nevertheless, a certain sequential parallelism of action does reinforce each unit with the import of what has already occurred.

Consequently, in Act I, Zoilo, unable to retain his estate, attempts to salvage his authority; he drives out his enemies and makes the decision to take his family away to a new homestead in the interior. In Act II the enemy is within; the commissioner and his cohort have already established a liaison with the younger women of the family. Zoilo is powerless to prevent his civil arrest. By Act III, the old criollo 's position has so eroded that he can only acquiesce when his family actually does abandon him.

A proud patriarch without a patriarchy, Zoilo prepares for his final attempt at self-assertion: suicide. The representation of the three acts lacks the pattern of traditional dramaturgy exposition, complication, and denouement. In each act Zoilo chooses to leave rather than suffer a humiliating defeat. Thus, he leaves his estate, the homestead, and finally the world while the women of the family make an essentially parallel series of decisions to abandon him. Structured around the idea of separation, the play uses the divisions of the three-act form in a particularly effective way.

Within each act there is an absolute continuity of time whereas between the acts time is discontinuous. As a result the actions transcend the chain of causality which usually defines the progression of realist drama. Events which are not pertinent to the principal action of self-assertion are made to occur between the acts.

For example, the first act ends with Zoilo's altruistic decision to begin anew in the interior. In the second act the family is already installed in the humble homestead of Zoilo's ahijado Aniceto.

In this way, the dramatist avoids presenting an on stage quarrel between the enraged protagonist and the women over what they surely would have considered to be a less than satisfactory solution to the family's plight. The second act concludes in a similarly hermetic fashion with the betrothal of the tubercular Robusta and Aniceto. Here the dramatist has studiously avoided a scene of grief. In so doing, he pioneered the lean plot line of the contemporary theater in South America.

The scenic arrangement of Barranca abajo reveals not only his mastery of the techniques of the modern stage but also the highly structured nature of his original approach to dramatic art. Instead, absorbing perhaps from the naturalists a certain studied attention to detail, he realized the dramatic potential of sublimating a stage prop into a dynamic figure. Muestras de abandono.

The bed, stripped bare and left to sanitize in the sun, imposes itself as an object with an expressive function 5. It immediately tells the audience of Robusta's death and is a constant reminder of Zoilo's loss. Other props in the play have a similarly active role because of the forceful way in which they generate an expectation for certain kinds of action.

Although occasionally the object is used in the expected fashion, following realistic convention, as when Zoilo threatens the women with his whip I, x, , at other times a seemingly decorative object advances and creates the potential for action. One might think of the play's opening: a domestic tableau in which all the women in Zoilo's family appear in the patio. Robusta is applying a plaster to her ailing mother Misia Dolores; her sister Prudencia and her aunt Rudelinda are both ironing.

Through the accomplished use of a simple prop, in this case a candle, the dramatist quickly establishes the atmosphere of tension and discord which reigns in the house of Zoilo:. En el aire no puedo hacerlo. Se acerca a la mesa, coloca los parches de papel sobre ella y les pone sebo de la vela. Recoge la vela y trata de reanudar su tarea.

The ensuing argument builds in intensity. The scene functions principally to create an atmosphere rather than to convey information.

Thus, when Don Zoilo enters at the peak of the argument, the mood suddenly shifts, for the women feign harmony and begin to chatter about the weather.

Now, although the protagonist says absolutely nothing, his peculiar deportment and the evident effect it has on the women communicate an ominous tension in which the dialogue tells nothing but indicates all:. Se levanta de la siesta. Avanza lentamente y se sienta en un banquito. Pasado un momento, saca el cuchillo de la cintura y se pone a dibujar marcas en el suelo. Parece que viene tormenta del lao de la sierra.

Tal vez se haga con agua. Traeme de una vez ese matecito. ZOILO se levanta y va a sentarse a otro banquito. ZOILO no responde. ZOILO se aleja y hace mutis lentamente por la derecha. Everything serves to draw attention to Zoilo. Not only does his unexpected silence alter the course of stage events, even his limited physical movements are used as attention-focusing devices. Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, he uses a menacing prop in an odd way.

The silent Zoilo takes out his knife and proceeds to scratch the ground with it. The mere physical presence of man and object serves a semiological function more potent and direct than any verbal sign. Zoilo has yet to say anything. Nevertheless, from the vantage point of the stage participants as well as that of the theater public, he is the absolute center of attention. The innovation did not consist of a mere change in diction, as the colloquial flavor of the dialogue would seem to imply, but rather comprised a totally new concept of dramatic action.

Drama, not just verbal, was physical impersonation as well. A representation of an action therefore, to be truly effective, must be the result of a significant fusion of word and deed.

In this new scheme of things the characters' movements and the use of stage objects passed from the domain of the acting company to that of the author. The creative possibilities of dramatic literature were thus increased immeasurably. In the final act of Barranca abajo , when Don Zoilo is crazed with anguish over the loss of his favorite daughter and his failure to salvage the family's honor, neither a revealing soliloquy nor an intimate colloquy could adequately convey the excruciating distress of the old criollo.

Here, the dramatist eschews such rhetorical devices in order to show the mood of impending disaster. With stage objects, physical action, and a minimum of dialogue he represents the psychic torment of the protagonist. Paralleling the pattern of the opening act and echoing its significance, the closing act begins with the women involved in discussion, while Don Zoilo is again a mute and menacing presence:.

The stage objects Robusta's bed and Zoilo's noose speak with silent eloquence, while the women's periphrastic indecision and the old gaucho's feignedly calm whistling are diverse signs whose common function is to direct attention to the protagonist and highlight his disturbed state.

In the process, the words of the dialogue have been so thoroughly denuded of significance that they are scarcely needed, save to suggest the women's nervousness. The simultaneous, although uncommunicative, onstage presence of both the women and Don Zoilo brings plot lines closer to convergence. They are readying themselves to abandon Zoilo, and he is preparing to hang himself; all are making the last arrangements to carry out a decision to leave, to break the final bond, and in so doing to escape from the tragic grasp of their oppressive relationship.

Desertion and suicide thus converge to complete the metaphor of the family's fall. From one point of view, the play can be seen as a paradigm of modular structure. Like a set of Chinese boxes, each act repeats the same basic design, but on a different scale.

Beginning always with a discussion among the women trailed by the disruptive presence of Don Zoilo, each dramatic unit deepens our understanding of the tense interpersonal relationships and documents the gravity of the protagonist's psychological disturbance. We have already observed certain parallels in acts I and III; the second act contains the variant which establishes the significance of the pattern: Zoilo's return to a normal state.

At the opening of the second act, the family has recently arrived in the rural backlands, and in the new homestead, the aging criollo seems rejuvenated, a restored image of his patriarchal self.

The curtain goes up on yet another family quarrel. Robusta, Cinderella-like, is grinding corn while the other women pretty themselves for a secret rendezvous:. Escena I. Me canso mucho. Tengo que acabar esta pollera. Llamala a mama, entonces, o a Rudelinda.

Escena II. This banter continues for a moment while Robusta labors, Rudelinda combs her hair, Prudencia arranges a petticoat, and Misia Dolores works on a tartan.


Visor de obras.

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Barranca Abajo by Florencio Sanchez

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Barranca abajo


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