Genesis of a Play: Raul Julia’s Romero

(A woman in a white terrycloth bathrobe is discovered on stage. Her hair is wet, her feet are bare.)

One moment ago, his mouth on my immaculate breast…

One moment ago – peace and comfort and joy and the absence of dread.

One moment ago. And now this.

Say one wrong thing.

Ask the one question you don’t really want answered.

I wanted him to go. To leave and never come back. To never have existed, in fact (the pleasure of his mouth on my breast notwithstanding.)

When a man tells you he once studied to become a priest, you might fall in love with him. That is unless you give the matter considerable reflection. Which I did not. At the time. I just leapt to the conclusion that if he were once (even in some distant time and place) near to God – or, at least, nearer to God than I – then that couldn’t be a bad thing.

San Salvador. A crowd congregates outside a church – a church which is occupied by right-wing government soldiers. Bishop Romero knows that if he re-enters the church, he will more than likely be killed. But he re-enters the church nevertheless.

Raul Julia. I love his face – his eyes. I saw him play Petruchio to Meryl Streep’s Kate in an outdoor production of The Taming of the Shrew in New York in the 1980’s. He was the sexiest man I had ever seen. You could feel the passion between them. Chemistry. And he was hilarious – matching her temper tantrums and even outdoing her. I watched him strut and listened to him shout and I knew without a doubt that I would never be a good feminist.

“You are beautiful,” he says. And it is not the truth or falseness of the statement, but the fact that he says it that moves me.

“You are beautiful.”

“Even when you are angry, you are beautiful.”

“Even though you are sick tonight, you are still beautiful.” (Sounds a bit like “bootiful” with the accent.)

“You are bootiful.”

O.K. The novelty of it wears off after a while. (Sort of.)

It was the mid-1980’s and I was preparing for my own production of The Taming of the Shrew (without Raul Julia, of course) when the right-wing death squads were terrorizing El Salvador. Terrorizing him.

Little did we know that destiny would bring us all – him, me, Raul Julia, Kate and Petruchio – together in what would seem – for a very short time – like a safe place.

But you don’t need death squads to fear for your life – and that’s hard to explain to someone who has had the barrel of a gun pressed against his head and the trigger pulled. Three times. Danger is only a concept after that and a woman’s anxiety is an indulgence.

“You have a suspicious mind,” he says, swirling his hands in the air over his head. “There are torturers,” he tells me, “who will not stop asking you questions – even if you do not know the answer – because they believe that you do know.”

Perspective.

We need people who help us to keep things in perspective.

And so, Raul Julia, who is dying of cancer at the time of shooting, moves his Romero from political neutrality – indifference, even – to total commitment. He has dignity and grace and beauty. He is afraid for his life, but he does not let this stop him. And when the soldiers strip him naked in the street, the people step forward to cover him, shaming the soldiers.

There was music in my home for a time. And laughter and hand-holding and embracing. There was the feel of his front against my back in the morning and the sound of his accent on the phone.

“Sleep with the angels,” he would say. “And I will be there.”

But when a man talks about guilt and writes about suicide – yet will do nothing to help himself – I lose sympathy, eventually. And patience. I even stop – despite all attempts to the contrary – I even stop loving him.

Maybe I have become a good feminist, after all.

But I’ve only said that I stop loving because I am angry. Angry at stupidity. Angry at waste and loss and not having. Angry at potential. Angry at cruel, thoughtless, mocking potential, waving itself in front of my face, never, ever to be realized. There is nothing to be gained from cherishing unrealized potential. No potential is better than unrealized potential. No potential is bliss.

You know at the beginning of the movie that Romero will be martyred. And yet it still shocks and hurts and brings tears.

And so Romero is gone and Raul Julia is gone and my lover is gone and you can’t produce The Taming of the Fucking Shrew the way Shakespeare intended it anymore. Always have to have a twist, an irony. (It’s a drunken man’s sexual fantasy; she says the final speech with her tongue in her cheek; he regrets that he must teach her these lessons…!!!) No, no, no, no, goddamnit! It is a play about passion, seduction, lust – and commitment – yes – especially commitment – between two equals.

And Raul Julia knew it and he never, never apologized for it and he had the dignity and authority and the grace to be the seducer we could cheer for.

Who else could play Petruchio and Romero, but Raul Julia? Passion plus commitment.

Passion is exciting and commitment is honourable, but passion plus commitment is pure, unadulterated character.

Passion plus commitment is grace.

Rest in peace Bishop Romero. Rest in peace Raul Julia. Rest in peace Petruchio. And Kate.

Rest in peace, my love.

[This monologue was the genesis of my play, Raul Julia’s Romero.]

© Elizabeth Anne French 2017

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