Carlos Gorostiza - Life and Work

Life and Work

Carlos Gorostiza was born to Basque Argentine parents in the upscale Buenos Aires borough of Palermo. He and an older brother enjoyed a happy early childhood until, in 1926, their father, Fermín Gorostiza (among the first Argentines to receive a pilot's licence) abandoned the family. Mrs. Gorostiza, who took up employment with a clothing designer, and her two sons, who entered the labor force as children, gradually recovered from the setback and, in 1931, she remarried and had a daughter, María Esther, who went on to become a moderately successful actress under the pseudonym Analía Gadé.

His stepfather, a playwright born in Spain, introduced Carlos to the theatre and in 1943, he debuted his first work, a puppet show titled La clave encantada ("The Enchanted Key"). The show's draw allowed him to open a puppet theatre, La Estrella Grande ("Big Star") and he began frequenting the Máscara (Mask) Theatre, where he began a successful run as Creon in their productions of the classic Greek tragedy, Antigone. Encouraged by friends, he presented his first play at the Máscara Theatre in 1949, El puente ("The Bridge"). Capturing the tension between different social classes in Buenos Aires, the realist El puente drew partly on his own childhood experiences with his mother's fallen social status and secured his reputation in Buenos Aires' vibrant theatre scene. Produced in a professional version by director Armando Discépolo at the prestigious Argentine Theatre, El puente was adapted into a film version under Gorostiza's direction in 1950.

Following El puente's success, Gorostiza returned to theatre direction, though without the draw of spectators he had earlier enjoyed. Turning to work as a publicist for an ad agency whose chief customer was a laundry soap maker, his fame returned somewhat as a screenwriter for Julio Saraceni's drama Marta Ferrari (1956) and when his play El pan de la locura ("The Bread of Madness") was produced at Buenos Aires' famed Cervantes Theatre to acclaim in 1958. The tragedy won him the coveted Municipal and Argentores Prizes, awards that earned him an invitation to the Central University of Venezuela Drama School in 1960, where he taught and co-wrote Los Caobos ("The Mahogany Trees") with Juana Sujo. Returning to Argentina in 1964, he continued his academic experience as Professor of Drama at the University of Buenos Aires, whereby he was honored with a Fullbright scholarship in 1966. His next play, the tragedy Los prójimos ("Fellow Men"), earned him a second Municipal Grand Prize in 1967.

Devoting himself mostly to teaching, Gorostiza produced only two new plays in the next decade. A novel published early in 1976 (Los cuartos oscuros - "The Voting Booths") yielded him a National Grand Prize for Literature. This, his first novel, coincided with the military coup that would usher in the most brutal Argentine dictatorship of the 20th century; shortly thereafter, Gorostiza lost his tenure at the University of Buenos Aires.

Cautious but undeterred, Gorostiza published a second novel, Los hermanos queridos ("Dear Brothers"), in 1978. A subtle criticism of the era's climate of fear, it earned him another Municipal Grand Prize and National Grand Prize. A certain loosening of censorship in 1980 led his fellow playwright Osvaldo Dragún to form a partnership with Gorostiza, writer Roberto Cossa, actor Pepe Soriano and others in an Argentine Open Theatre in the hope of encouraging a further return of the freedom of expression whose absence had led so many other cultural figures to leave Argentina since 1975. Convering a shuttered sparkplug factory in the Balvanera district of Buenos Aires to the "Picadero Theatre," they premiered a festival of their collective new works (including Gorostiza's El acompañamiento - "The Entourage") to acclaim on July 28, 1981. This success was marred by the theatre's fire bombing a week later, still an "unsolved mystery" (the Picadero reopened in 2001).

The return to democracy imminent following the tragic Falklands War and economic collapse at the hand of the dictators' economists, Gorostiza produced "Killing Time" and "A Fire to Put Out" in 1982, plays which earned him another Argentores Prize and the Rotary Club's Silver Laurel. Elections called for October 1983 drew Gorostiza to a progressive UCR candidate, Raúl Alfonsín. Facing a close contest with Peronist candidate Ítalo Lúder and with elections but three months away, the UCR nominee was given a simple slogan by the former publicist: the alliterative Ahora, Alfonsín! Facing a harried timetable and with his candidate unable to break out in the polls, Gorostiza was struck by President Reynaldo Bignone's snide dismissal of the historic elections as a "democratic way out," whereby he created ads appealing for votes for "more than a democratic way out...a way into life." Alfonsín won the 1983 election by a surprising 12-point margin, carrying majorities in Lower House of Congress.

Appointed Secretary of Culture by President Alfonsín upon taking office on December 10, he rescinded the National Film Rating Entity and devoted his time to the post, helping encourage a strong recovery in the theatre and cinema of Argentina amid continuing economic malaise and budgetary scarcity. Frustrated by the post's limitations, he resigned amicably at the end of 1986. Gorostiza returned to writing, publishing a novella, collaborating on an acclaimed 1989 documentary of the Open Theatre and penning a nostalgic look at his brief time with his barnstorming natural father, Aeroplanos. The 1990 play earned him numerous awards and reconnected him to his theatre audience.

Turning increasingly to the past, his sentimental 1994 play "Rear Patio" and 1999 historical novel Vuelan las Palomas ("Pigeons Fly") were less-well received, though Gorostiza retained his loyal following. His existentalist 2001 novel "Good People" was followed in 2004 by another tale of his own childhood curiosity, "The Masked Marauder." Gorostiza debuted his long-awaited El alma de papá ("Dad's Soul") in 2008. Starring Open Theatre colleague Jorge Rivera López in the title role, it continues Gorostiza's distinction as the dean of Argentine realist playwrights.

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