Tonight we are not members of an audience, but delegates at a ‘Conference on Family Matters’. Our speakers are the quintuplets of the Morrison family, a travelling troupe of actors who tonight are abandoning the script of their father, Papa Morrison, to reveal a counter-narrative about their dysfunctional theatrical family. In the style of music hall theatre they invite us to participate in their improvisations, while they take apart any notion of a fixed or stable identity. Quintuplets reveals self, sexuality, nation and gender as an infinitely performable series of acts.
In Quintuplets two actors, a man and a woman, play all members of the Morrison family, a travelling theatre company comprised of quintuplet siblings and their director father, Papa Morrison, who writes the libretto they perform.
Tonight, however, is different. The quintuplets cast aside their father’s script and improvise their performances in a series of six monologues which tell a different story about themselves and their family relationships. The audience find themselves as delegates at what the quintuplets tell us is not a performance but rather a ‘Conference on family matters’.
First of the quintuplets is Dafne, a Puerto Rican Blanche Dubois, seductive and melancholic and lover of all things schmaltzy. She relishes romance novels, Barbara Cartland and sentimental Hollywood films. She has lived through seven marriages and has fallen in love with the dwarf fire-eater from the circus. She parades her beauty and sexuality on stage, inviting the audience to kiss her hand and engage with her flirtations. Next comes Baby, carrying an empty cage for his imaginary friend, his cat. He is shy and uncertain and exercises his imagination in order never to grow up. Bianca follows, evidently tormented by desires she struggles to repress. Her unsuccessful battle against her addiction to smoking insinuates her underlying repressed desire, her lesbianism. Mandrake is as seductive and devastatingly handsome as Dafne is beautiful. He is peacock-like, parading his virility and his beauty in a flamboyant way and yet he too insinuates bisexuality and an incestuous attachment to Dafne. Finally we encounter Carlota. She is heavily pregnant with quintuplets and embodies a grotesque version of maternity where fertility is in excess. Finally we meet Papa Morrison, who is frustrated by the disregard for his script.
The monologues become six windows into the Morrison family life and its true conflicts and tensions. Once liberated from dutiful performances, the masks of the quintuplets fall in their improvisations to release a counter-narrative to the one their father’s script dictates. At the end of the play there is another denouement: the two actors shed their roles and becomes themselves, speaking to the audience as they take off their make-up on stage. Here they question the notion of theatre and the play suggests a level of performance in many aspects of socialisation, gender, nationhood and sexuality. At the end of Quintuplets is an examination of performance in all our individual and collective identities.
Luis Rafael Sánchez is a leading Puerto Rican dramatist who has had considerable impact on the theatre culture of Puerto Rico. Amongst the accolades which recognise his contribution was a Guggenheim fellowship awarded to him in 1979 as well as his appointments as professor emeritus at The University of Puerto Rico and The City University of New York.
Sánchez, Luis Rafael. 1985. Quíntuples. Hanover, USA, Ediciones del norte
Colón Zayas, Eliseo. 1985. El Teatro de Luis Rafael Sánchez: Códigos, ideología y lenguaje. San Juan, Puerto Rico, Editorial Playor, Biblioteca de Autores de Puerto Rico (in Spanish)
Morell, Hortensia, R. 1994. ‘Quíntuples y el vertigo del teatro autorreflexivo de Luis Rafael Sánchez’, Latin American Theatre Review, 39 - 51 (in Spanish)
Stevens, Camilla. 2002. ‘Travelling Troupes: The Performance of Puerto Rican Identity in Plays by Luis Rafael Sánchez and Myrna Casas’, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, 85, 2, 240-9
Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 6 May 2011.