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by Felicia Esquinas

The actor Juan Diego (Bermujos, Sevilla, 1942) performed JosÚ Sanchis Sinisterra’s play El lector por horas (The Reader by Hours) in the little theatre at the National Theatre of Catalonia from 21 January to 14 March. (...)

"(...) There’s been a qualitative leap forward in all Spanish cities in terms of infrastructure. They have better facilities; yet they’re sadder, more dehumanized." When he looks back, in Barcelona or any other city, Juan Diego gets nostalgic about the people who used to live there. Between his arrival at the Estaciˇ de Franša more than thirty years ago and his rendering of El lector por horas at the National Theatre of Catalonia, Diego has known three Barcelonas.

(...) "It may sound silly, but I was really excited to see the monument to Columbus. One of the first bits of sight-seeing I did was to go up Columbus." With more in his head than in his suitcase, Juan Diego first set foot in Barcelona at the Estaciˇ de Franša, in 1963. He had come to perform a play by William Morris (...), and he booked in at the Pensiˇn Toledano in Rambla Catalunya.

They were hard times to start up in the profession: "My wage was 225 pesetas and the boss didn’t pay up; we were hard pushed to get by." But they were also tinged with an inevitable Bohemian flavour. There were nights out in the Gothic Quarter and "the hotspots, the cabarets, the dancehalls."

(...) In the 1969-70 season, Juan Diego, Julia Pe˝a and Emma Cohen put on La noche de los asesinos (The Night of the Assassins) by the Cuban playwright JosÚ Triana in the now closed Capsa Theatre. It was "a very hard-hitting, bold text, a Casa de las AmÚricas prizewinner, and we weren’t allowed to put it on in Madrid." It was the early seventies and the city was alive with avant-garde theatre and movements opposing the dictatorship. At that time, the actor was a member of the Communist Party of Spain. "That Barcelona was dear to me. There were the contacts with people in the PSUC, and a bit later on, with the Assembly of Catalonia. We met to conspire, and to organize and build political strategies to smash Francoism."

(...) Years later, this communist anti-Francoist militant became the first actor to play General Franco, in Jaime Camino’s 1986 film Dragon Rapide.

After a long break of two decades, Juan Diego landed right back in mid-nineties Barcelona with a play based on texts by Bukowski, No hay camino al paraÝso, nena (There’s No Road to Paradise, Baby), at the Condal, and now with El lector por horas, the first play in Spanish to be shown at the National Theatre of Catalonia. The actor explains: "La noche de los asesinos showed me something that I’ve seen confirmed by this play by Sanchis Sinisterra: in Barcelona there’s a very broad theatre-going public that’s highly receptive to messages with new forms and content (...)."