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“The city is covered with pink crosses”

INTERVIEW. Director of the theatre section at the Venice Biennale Àlex Rigola and the Schaubühne's own Florian Borchmeyer discuss their newest project – a stage adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s epic novel 2666.

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Photo by Gianmarco Bresadola

Opening the Schaubühne’s F.I.N.D. festival, acclaimed Catalan director Àlex Rigola and German dramaturg Florian Borchmeyer adapt Roberto Bolaño’s monumental posthumous novel 2666.

Bolaño’s last work was his masterpiece. Exploring 20th-century worldwide degeneration through a multitude of characters, locations and eras, it focuses in particular on the unsolved series of female murders happening in the city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico (Santa Teresa in the novel). In 2007, Rigola, today director of the theatre section at the Venice Biennale, decided to adapt the novel for the stage. For this year’s F.I.N.D., the Schaubühne commissioned a German-language version, to be shown with English surtitles.

What made you decide to adapt 2666?

ÀR: Many years ago, I was looking for an epic story, a huge story with a lot of characters and big troubles. At that moment I was reading 2666 without knowing that it would be my new story. But after reading it, it came back again and again and again… I decided it’s good material, for different reasons. One is the form: it is a novel written by a poet. If you turn one page and start to read, you can feel that it’s something more than a story … it’s really in the words.

Is it even possible to stage such a mammoth story?

FB: It’s completely insane: it has more than 1000 pages, more than 40 main characters, it is talking about the entire 20th and 21st century and it’s happening around the world: in Germany, in Spain, in Mexico. It seemed impossible. But somehow this stage version condenses the whole novel to something that is possible in four hours of theatre.

The novel has five parts – how do you differentiate them onstage?

ÀR: Bolaño did something very intelligent: every part is written in a different way, so we try to do the same. It starts like a writers’ conference – where they end up talking about themselves, of course. The second part is more cinematic; we’ve tried to do something very close to David Lynch’s films with surreal elements. The third part is a thriller, we stage it like a dream that ends up like a nightmare. The fourth part is an installation dedicated to the killed women…

Unlike Roberto Bolaño, you visited Juárez.

ÀR: It was important for me to be in that place. I made a tour of more or less the same places where the novel happens, and I took photos that we use onstage. At some point, the victims’ families decided to put a pink cross in every part of the city where a woman died. Now the city is covered with pink crosses. We used that for this installation.

FB: Interesting is the fact that Bolaño, in his novel, created a documentary-like space to talk about these murders – the assassinations’ description is very detailed, very precise. But the cases are made up: the whole documentary dimension is complete fantasy from an author that never travelled to this place. It’s like the medieval theologists who wrote about Jerusalem and had never been there. In a sense Santa Teresa is the dark Jerusalem of our modern world.

The city is actually the central character of the novel.

ÀR: It’s not easy, because Santa Teresa represents something for all of us. Really the central theme of the book is evil – not only concerning people who are killing, but every one of us. We who are turning our face because we don’t want to see what is happening in the world. That’s what that story is about.

FB: Everybody is guilty in this novel. There is no innocent person. And even the most sympathetic character can turn out to be a murderer. Unlike the classical model of the devil, where you have a diabolic person who condenses the evil, here you don’t have a devil because the evil is inside everybody.

2666 April 3, 19:00, 6, 17:00, 7, 19:00 | Schaubühne, Kurfürstendamm 153, Charlottenburg, U-Bhf Adenauer Platz

Originally published in issue #126, April 2014.