UC Graduate Student's Political Comedy Premieres on Madrid Stage

Department of Romance Languages and Literatures PhD candidate Mar Gámez's first published play debuted Nov. 22.

Date: 11/22/2017 4:00:00 PM

By: Jonathan Goolsby
Contact: Julie Campbell-Holmes
Phone: (513) 509 - 1114
Photos: Germán Lama, ABC

Play cover alon with the author

CINCINNATI, Oh. — María del Mar Gámez García is a former journalist from Ibiza, Spain, and is currently a PhD candidate in the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Arts & Sciences' Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

She's studying Spanish literature, serves as the Campus Ambassador for the Graduate Student Governance Association and is an assistant editor for the Cincinnati Romance Review. Gámez is also a burgeoning playwright, who's achieving success on the European theater circuit.

Her comedy, La fauna del poder (The Political Fauna), which she wrote in 2003 while taking a UC Spanish-language creative writing class,  premiered at Madrid's Teatro Lara on November 22. The show is scheduled to run through January 17, 2018.

The credit crunch heard round the world.

Fauna is a satire. It explores and tweaks the nose of modern Europe's political environment. The story takes place in an unnamed southern European country that is fictional, but will nevertheless feel strikingly familiar to audience members.

"I was hoping to write a play that could talk about the situation in other southern European countries, like Greece, Italy, Portugal," Gámez said. "But it's basically Spain."

Fauna was born of the turmoil that embroiled Western economies in 2008 in the wake of the United States' subprime mortgage market crash.

Prior to the crisis, many southern European countries were already struggling to integrate with European Union fiscal requirements, which required that member governments maintain relatively balanced budgets.

The governments of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, however, had long practiced Keynesian (demand-driven) economic policies, and in the decades since the end of the Second World War had consequently run up their foreign debt.

Servicing those debts had already become a drain on those nations' coffers.

When the US housing bubble burst, it triggered repercussions in lending markets worldwide, and those consequences were perhaps most intensely felt in southern Europe, Gámez said.

Even as private lenders tightened liquidity, the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank pressured the so-called debtor nations to pay down their balance sheets. They forced Greece, Spain and other countries to scale back spending through "austerity measures," which led to lower employment.

Although EU creditor nations like Germany were well-poised to weather the storm, because their economies were well-diversified and already running lower balance sheets, the Spanish economy was heavily based on retail, tourism and new construction — sectors that were all acutely vulnerable in the credit crunch.

"In Spain, at the height of the crisis, national unemployment rates ran in the double digits, Gámez noted. Young workers were particularly hard-hit. It was really bad in Portugal and Italy, too," she observed.

Intense dissatisfactions with joblessness and imposed austerity combined to give rise to sudden, drastic disruptions in the region's political landscape.

"When I wrote [Fauna], the Spanish political system was still a bipartisan system, but I knew that it was coming to an end," Gámez explained. "Lots of people were demonstrating in the streets in Spain."

There, anti-austerity "Indignados" formed a new left-wing party, Podemos — "We Can" — in 2014.

Podemos and a newish, moderate counterpart (Ciudadanos) have since steadily gained traction in the polls, diverting votes away from Spain's traditional left, the Socialists, and from its established center-right, the People's Party.

A comedy born of tragedy.

Poster for La Fauna Del Podor

Poster for the play.

Gámez's play mirrors those real-life political developments.

In it, the president of the country belongs to the dominant center-right party. He faces intense pressure from outside creditors (a thinly-veiled representation of the European Union) to reduce his government's spending and pay down its foreign debt.

He cooperates — at first. But the measures make him intensely unpopular with the people. This leads to the rise of a new, progressive populist party.

Meanwhile, the president is hopelessly in love with the leader of the mainstream, center-left opposition party. Faced with flagging poll numbers, and hoping to curry her favor, the president seeks the opposition leader's advice.

He acts on it, signing into law several of her popular reforms, against the wishes of his country's creditors, and begins to regain his popularity. Seeing herself eclipsed, the opposition leader starts to move to the right, hoping to gain voters and shift the balance of power back in her party's favor.

The president's unexpected moves have other unintended consequences: the new, far-left party's leaders are dismayed that their movement is losing steam, so they enter into a strange bedfellow conspiracy with the foreign creditors (who are unhappy that they're not being repaid) to assassinate the president.

The political situation becomes thoroughly muddled; by the end of the play, Gámez said, so it's hard to know who's good, who's bad, who is right and who is wrong.

Photograph of author María del Mar Gámez García

Playwright María del Mar Gámez García

"The main goal of theater is to raise our consciousness," she asserted. "I want people who go to watch my play to think about our current situation when they leave. I don't want them just to laugh and then forget about it."

The point, Gámez said, was "to show the frustration that many Europeans, especially young people, faced during the economic crisis. Many have had to leave their countries to find a better future."

Her eyes welled a little.

"Our parents are worried that we're going to live worse times than they did."

Satirizing those economic frustrations, couching them in laughs, she explained, makes them more accessible for the audience. It's easier to face fear when you can laugh at it.

"It's sort of a catharsis," she said. "In Spain, we've come out of the crisis — our economy is growing at 3 percent now — but people elsewhere in Europe are still facing it."

An American version in the works?

Southern European countries aren't the only nations that have experienced profound disruptions since 2008. Ukraine, Ireland, the United Kingdom and even, arguably, the United States have all likewise experienced major realignments in their political landscapes.

The 2016 US election, which gave rise not only to Donald Trump's populist takeover of the GOP, but also to a Bernie Sanders-led resurgence of interest in the progressive left, closely resembled the political fracturing process seen previously in Spain and Greece.

Consequently, Gámez is planning to begin adapting her work for the American audience over the coming semester break. She also has an idea for a play about the Catalán secessionist movement, which she thinks she'll begin writing after she finishes her dissertation next year.

And, now that the economic situation in Spain is stabilizing, she wants to return home.

"I really like living in my country. Madrid especially. There's a lot of culture there, and it's really cheap to watch plays," she laughed.