Ñaque: A Theater at the Margins
A bare stage. Two actors. A tambourine. Such are the essential elements of ñaque, one of the Spanish baroque styles Agustín de Rojas enumerates in El viaje entretenido, his probing reflection on early modern theater. “The ñaque were two men…,” de Rojas explains, “They wore a scraggy beard, and played the tambourine; they lived happily, slept in their clothes, walked barefoot, ate hungrily, and in the cold of winter they did not feel the fleas.” In its austerity, the ñaque seems out of a place in an artistic era more commonly associated with grandeur and ornamentation, an anachronism better suited to a modernist stage. Yet, among its many admirers were Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Francisco de Quevedo, some of the greats of the Spanish Golden Age.
Pairs of actors may no longer walk barefoot city to city dragging a chest behind them, but the appeal of the ñaque form endures. Among those contemporary companies deploying the conventions of the ñaque to engage with the audience are Mexico City theater companies EFE Tres and Cabaret Misterio, whose collaborative project was performed at the 42nd annual Siglo de Ora drama festival at the Chamizal National Monument. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry V, ¿Qué con Quique Quinto? presents the audience with Foca, Zote, and Ariel, traveling actors aboard the Nautilus Cabaret. Among the repertoire of plays they carry is the story of a young Enrique V (Henry V), or Quique for short, who reigns over the Kingdom of Children Everyone Ignores and must face the Kingdom of Censorship. With laughs, live music, and an innovative production, director Andrés Carreño attempts to bring the classics to a younger audience.
EFE Tres and Cabaret Misterio, however, are only the most recent companies to bring the ñaque style to Chamizal. Attendees of the 2005 Siglo de Oro festival also saw a play performed in the ñaque style with the production of Seis oficios, a saber. In a two-woman play based on Fernando de Rojas’s La Celestina and Gil Vicente’s Barca do Inferno, director Maritza Wilde and the Bolivian company Teatro Ñaque depict two women who attempt to enter heaven but are denied entry for their previous sins even as others with more severe transgressions are allowed in. Audiences are faced with questions about justice and the disparity in its application.
A theater at the margins, a poor theater, the ñaque dispenses with theatrical trappings, allowing the actor’s voice and body to become central to the performance. Ñaque remains timeless because it creates an intimate space out of the auditorium in which contact and exchange between performers and audience is unencumbered. At its core, it is a reflection on the relation between actor and spectator.