The play “Olives & Blood” to premiere October 3 at the Connecticut Repertory Theater (CRT) at UCONN in Storrs, explores the issues related to the murder of one of the most revered and well-known writers in Spanish-language literature: Federico García Lorca.
My interest in Lorca’s work has been part of my literary life from the moment when, as a teenager, I started reading his poems and plays. Because of this, as soon as I heard about the upcoming premiere at UCONN, I requested an interview with Michael Bradford a theater professor at UCONN, who is the author of “Olives and Blood.”
A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL BRADFORD
To talk to Michael Bradford is like opening a theater encyclopedia. It is also an opportunity to learn about the countries in Europe and Latin America, where he traveled as a young man, while enlisted in the Navy, or later in his career when he received the prestigious Fulbright fellowship. Other fellowships also enabled him to travel to Spain and Cuba, in an effort to unravel the story Lorca’s assassination. While Lorca continues to be mostly known as a poet and playwright, his talent as a composer and painter is less known. While I write this article I imagine that somewhere in the world, it doesn’t matter how far it might be from Connecticut, there is someone reading one of Lorca’s poems, or rehearsing one of the many plays he wrote.
It’s been years since Lorca was murdered on August 19, 1936, but the passion his works inspired have not lessened, and, in some ways the controversy surrounding his death has converted him into an even more mysterious figure. It is the passion that he inspired that prompted Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov to write the opera “Ainadamar” (La Fuente de las Lagrimas/The fountain of tears) the Arabic name given to an ancient well in Granada located in the area where Lorca was assassinated. It is also that passion which became the force behind Michael Bradford’s willingness to cross oceans to try to unmask, and, up to a certain point, understand the mind of Juan Luis Trescante, (orTrescanto, as he is known in some circles) Trescante was one of several men involved in Lorca’s murder.
From the moment I met Michael Bradford, at the Dog Lane Café in Storrs, he made me feel as if I had known him for a long time. He was very generous in granting me this interview by creating a space between the several classes he was teaching the day we met.
BRADFORD AND HIS ENCOUNTER WITH THE MAGIC OF THE THEATER
As Bradford started telling me about his life, my questions jumped from my curiosity about how a man with his background became a University professor, to how and when he developed his interest in Lorca’s work. Bradford, who was raised by his grandmother, took some courses (paid by his father) while working mostly menial jobs. He confesses that, he had no goals or direction he could follow at that time in his life. At some point, having left school and mostly wandering from one place to another, without money or a home, he walked into a diner and ordered a meal. Sitting next to him was a man who suddenly said “You are not going to pay for this, are you?” Embarrassed, Bradford admitted that he had no money. That exchange, and what followed it are an indelible memory in Bradford’s life. It turned out that that man was a truck driver on his way to California. He offered Bradford a ride and even hired him, to help him unload his truck, providing him in this way with some money.
I have always heard that life is so much more interesting than fiction. This is certainly true in the case of Michael Bradford. In California, he managed to get to his mother’s house. They had not seen each other for 18 years. When she opened the door and saw him she said “You have to call your father right away, and your grandmother has been worried about you.” After an absence of 18 years her response was as if Bradford had just come back home after a short walk.
It is in California when, after confronting the uncertainty of his future, he decides to join the US Navy and to give his life some structure. It is also at this time, when after he enlisted and living in a Navy base, that he discovers the magic of the theater–something he had never seen before. A date with a friend who took him to see the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” written in 1982 by the Pulitzer-prize winner August Wilson, was the catalyst that changed Bradford’s life. Set in Chicago of the 1920s, this play explores themes of religion, art, racism, and the exploitation of black musicians by white music producers. Watching this play, Bradford witnessed for the first time, a story acted by people who looked like him and a theme that affected him emotionally because it reflected his own experiences as an African-American man.
The impact of this play was so profound that Bradford right away wanted to learn about the theater, to read plays by Wilson, Williams and other playwrights whom he now credits as his “mentors.” His need to find out more about the theater made him join community theater groups, which were located on the bases where he was stationed. He confessed to me that he “learned to write plays on the job.” But the theater was not to be the only genre where he could express himself. He also turned to poetry, and one of his poems was published in Essence magazine.
His intense desire to learn how to write plays took him to study at Brooklyn College. Just by chance, his play “Living in the Wind,” which he wrote to be accepted at the college, was sent by a friend of his to the American Place Theater, and that group was so impressed with it that they produced the play. Bradford was on his way, expanding his creative ideas to working on a film script based on a short story he had written. As we talked about plays, movies and poetry, I asked him if there was one he liked to write better than the other. Bradford replied that the “difference is that in the movies, the story is narrated with images; it’s contemplative and the connection with the language has another quality. Theater and poetry exist in parallel universes, bound by a language and rhythms which are controlled.”
From the time he graduated from the University until he obtained the job in the Theater Department at the University of Connecticut, his plays have been produced in New York, Kentucky, Chicago and other venues. His first play “Living in the Wind” received ten nominations for the AUDELCO award, and the play “Willy’s Cut and Shine” was published by Broadway Play Publishing and produced by ETA Creative Theatre in Chicago.
Bradford found plays by Lorca while researching the work of 20th Century playwrights for a class he was teaching. It could be said that it was love at first reading. Bradford was so impressed by the unique way in which Lorca expressed himself, that he became enchanted with his work.
Theories abound about the motive as to why Lorca was murdered; so far they are just conjectures, even though recently a few testimonies from people who participated in the murder, or had some information, have been coming forward.
Bradford has spent many years working on the script for “Olives and Blood” editing and rewriting, making sure that each moment of this play honors the memory of Federico Garcia Lorca.
In one of Lorca’s best known, and most haunting poems “Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” in the fourth section of that moment entitled “Alma Ausente” (Absent Soul) Lorca wrote :
“Tardará mucho tiempo en nacer, si es que nace,
Un andaluz tan claro, tan rico de aventura.
Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen
Y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos“
It will take a long time for someone to be born, if he is ever born,
An Andalucian so clear, so rich in adventure.
I sing his elegance with words that wail
And remember the sadness of the breeze in the olive fields.
(translated by Bessy Reyna)
These same words Lorca wrote to describe his friend and the sadness his death left behind, could also be used to describe that extraordinary talent, that unequaled poet who was Federico Garcia Lorca.
THE PLAY “OLIVES AND BLOOD” AT CRT
The play “Olives and Blood” was first produced by the group HERE in New York City in 2012 and premiered in London produced by Brixton East. The highly anticipated production at CRT has an outstanding cast which includes Martín Solá as Trescante, (Lorca’s murderer); Nicholas Urda (Lorca); Anita Petry in the parts of Margarita and La Actriz; Anthony J. Goes, in the parts of Alonso and Ignacio and Dale AJ Rose, (Eduardo). The rest of the cast includes Saúl Alvarez, Whitney Andrews, Gabriel Aprea, Kent Coleman and Derrick Holmes. The play is directed by Gary English, who also designed the set. Professor English is well-known for his work as the founder of CRT, and for fifteen years he served as the director of the School of Drama at UCONN.
The play runs until October 12 at the Naffe Katter Theatre in the campus of the University in Storrs. Tickets are $7 to $37. For more information please call 860-486-2113 or visit www.crt.uconn.edu
Bessy Reyna is a contributor to CTLatinoNews.com. A writer, author and poet , you can read more about her work at www.bessyreyna.com