Sam Lubner went to this year’s edition of CASA Latin American Theatre Festival to see the Mexican theatre group Los Guggenheim perform El Amor de las Luciérnagas (The Love of the Fireflies) at the Barbican.
Alejandro Ricaño’s El Amor de las Luciérnagas poses the question that we have all undoubtedly asked ourselves at one time or another: ‘what would you do, if while living in Norway, you got drunk and wrote a story on a cursed typewriter about seeing your doppelgänger, only for it to somehow come to life, fly back to Mexico and try to steal your ex-boyfriend?’
Ricaño’s set at the Barbican is sparse. There are only a few suitcases and telephones underneath a jumble of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling that create a firefly-like affect, flickering on and off throughout the play. The protagonist Maria is played by three actresses, one representing her present, another her past, and the third one acting as a bridge between the two by narrating their thoughts. It’s very cleverly done and great to see the three Marias interact together, each one with subtle differences but undoubtedly all with the same character at their core.
Despite the comedic premise, El Amor de las Luciérnagas is no straightforward slapstick comedy or farce. Ricaño punctuates the central plot with anecdotes and snapshots that light-heartedly but nevertheless sensitively depict Maria’s awkward adolescence in Mexico. First the audience sees Maria meeting Romulo, her now ex-boyfriend, in school as teenagers. Romulo perfectly embodies that combination of immaturity and self-assuredness found in so many thirteen year-olds, relentlessly teasing Maria in front of their classmates before quietly asking her at the end of the lesson, “quieres ser mi novia?” (“Do you want to be my girlfriend?”). The ever present and invasive influence of the Church is also dealt with in a similar comedic but poignant fashion. Maria returns from church to tell her atheist father that someone there wanted to know whether she masturbates. “¿Dónde está ese pervertido?” (“Where can I find this pervert?”), her father explodes with rage. “En el cielo” (“In heaven”) replies Maria, and her father must resignedly accept his powerlessness, “ah…Ese señor…” (“ah…that guy”). Other memories, such as her father’s death from stomach cancer and the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Colosio, are treated with considerably more gravitas. Ricaño gets the balance of humour and melancholy just right and not one memory detracts from the plot.
The storyline keeps the audience laughing but it raises some more philosophical questions as well. Maria eventually comes to terms with the fact that her doppelgänger and Romulo are simply happier in their new relationship together and that it would be wrong to disrupt it. She then returns to Ramon, a carpenter that she met earlier on in her travels in the small town of Tlacotalpan. Although she has seen her double before, it is here that she truly finds herself. As a result, she enters into the relationship without her customary naivety, fully aware that it will eventually come to an end and that she will probably get hurt. Good days will nevertheless still come; they’ll be intermittent like the fireflies, but that will have to be enough.