Theater in the Time of Pandemic | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

Theater in the Time of Pandemic

At a time when we have been deprived of live theater for over a year, I can think of no one as inspiring, no one who proves more vividly why theater matters as it faces an uncertain future than Oscar Castro, a Chilean actor, director, and playwright who died of Covid in Paris on April 25 at the age of 73.

Oscar Castro’s saga began, like that of so many of his compatriots, when the Chilean military overthrew the democratically elected government of Socialist Salvador Allende in September 1973 and installed a reign of terror. While many of Chile’s cultural figures—I was among them—opted for exile, my friend Oscar decided to stay behind and test the limits of the regime’s ferocious censorship.

A little over a year after the coup, on October 14, 1974, Oscar and his company, El Aleph, premiered a play that cobbled together texts from the Bible, Don Quixote, Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. It was all presumably innocuous material, save for two scenes. In one, the captain of a shipwrecked boat goes down, vowing that better days would someday come, and in the other, at the end of the play, a prophet promises that his words of hope and courage would outlive him, continue beyond death. Oscar hoped that the audience would understand the allegorical references to Salvador Allende, who had died in the presidential palace defending democracy, but that the secret police would be less savvy.

He was right about the audience that flocked to the show—and wrong about the secret police. A month later, they came for him and his sister, the actress Marietta Castro. They were interrogated, tortured, threatened with execution. Something worse, however, was in store. Some weeks later, their mother, Julieta Ramírez, and Marietta’s husband, Juan Macleod (also a member of the troupe), were arrested when they visited their detained relatives. To this day, both Julieta and Juan are among the desaparecidos, the disappeared, of Chile.