Chilean turmoil backgrounds `Burning Patience'

Burning Patience Play by Antonio Skarmeta, translated by Marion Peter Holt. Directed by Paul Zimet. ``Burning Patience,'' at the INTAR Theatre, begins as fanciful comedy and ends with ominous reverberations from the 1973 military coup that toppled the Allende regime and brought Chile's fascist government to power.

The sunny scene of the action is the town of Isla Negra on the coast of Chile in the years 1969-73. Exiled Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta imagines how his fellow countryman, Nobelist Pablo Neruda (Gregorio Rosenblum), might have undertaken the romantic cause of Mario Jiminez (Angel David), the local postman. Mario's wooing of pretty Beatriz Gonzalez (Monique Cintron) is emphatically opposed by mama Rosa Gonzalez (Lola Pashalinski).

In a series of amusing exchanges between poet and postman, Mario discovers the uses of metaphor, at which he quickly becomes adept. Besides borrowing liberally from Neruda, he even composes a poem.

Meanwhile, through Neruda's advocacy, Rosa accepts Mario for a son-in-law. When Neruda travels to Stockholm to receive the 1971 Nobel Prize for poetry, his admiring Isla Negra neighbors listen to his acceptance speech by radio.

Skarmeta has taken the title of his play from a Rimbaud quote included in Neruda's remarks: ``In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid city.''

``Burning Patience'' touches passingly on Neruda's communism, political activity, and brief career as Chile's ambassador to France. Chilean political turmoil figures incidentally until near the end of the play. In the wake of the ailing poet's return to Isla Negra come ominous manifestations of official terrorism. Rosa's caf'e is raided and wrecked. Neruda disappears, apparently taken away in an ambulance while Mario faces ``questioning.'' (The dramatized version of Skermata's pointed work, which has appeared as a novel and a prizewinning film, is banned in Chile).

The graceful English translation by Marion Peter Holt is acted under Paul Zimet's direction by a group of players who relish the richness of the writing. In the two principal roles, Mr. Rosenblum's good-natured, avuncular Neruda is nicely balanced by the naive precocity of Mr. David's Mario.

The production has been imaginatively designed by Christopher Barreca (setting), Arden Fingerhut (lighting), and David Navarro Velasquez (costumes).

The third play of International Arts' 20th season, ``Burning Patience'' is being given its North American premi`ere and is scheduled to run through June 29.

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