The slow walk into old age can be heartbreaking.
Pedro and Carmen were married for over 50 years. In A paso lento (Slow Walk) we are invited to share different stages of their lives as older people. These scenes show how age finally crept up on them. But they also show a great deal of love - a life happily lived with each other and with their family.
The play begins with a prologue in which four actors – two young, two old – deliver monologues about ageing. The older actors talk about ageing physically, while still feeling young on the inside. A young actress worries about how she will cope when her parents become too old to care for themselves. A young actor talks about his grandfather, now 100 years old and lost in his own thoughts. Their short monologues suggest that, while the story that follows may focus on Pedro and Carmen, it is a story that everyone can relate to. The challenges of old age do not simply affect the elderly, but also their family and society in general.
The monologues are followed by a short sequence of images projected on to a screen. These show an old man struggling to cross a busy road until he reaches a park. He sits, and looks up at a block of flats. At the same time, an old man comes on stage and sits down on a park bench. This is Pedro, and it is 1998. A woman joins Pedro on the bench. She is a friend of his daughter, Inés, and is worried about the safety of this frail old man, out alone. Pedro angrily reacts to the young woman’s well-meant concern. He may be old, but he still insists on his right to independence.
After the scene in the park, we are taken back to a happier time in Pedro’s life. It is 1995. Pedro and his wife Carmen have just celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary with their children and grandchildren. Family photographs adorn their apartment, and there is also a picture of Pedro and Carmen on their wedding day. On stage, Photo Pedro and Carmen (i.e. the couple from the photograph) watch their older selves as they tidy away dishes. Photo Pedro and Carmen comment fondly on their future happy life together, watching the old couple light-heartedly bickering and making jokes. But the scene is tinged with a sense of sadness. Photo Carmen tells her young husband that she will be the one to go first. Photo Pedro wonders how he will go on without her.
One year after the Golden Wedding anniversary, Carmen’s health is indeed failing. Her grandson Mario visits. Carmen wants to give him a collection of letters, written by her first-ever boyfriend who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. She has never shown these letters to anyone, but now that she is dying she wants to pass on the memories contained in them. Carmen asks Mario to keep the letters. He, however, is reluctant to take on the responsibility for preserving them. After this, a short film shows other old people reminiscing about their past - a reminder that the elderly have a lifetime of memories to share.
The years roll back to 1989. Pedro, slightly younger, is being giving childcaring lessons by his son-in-law. He is preparing to look after his granddaughter for a few days, and is making sure he knows how to change modern nappies and feed the little girl properly. The screen shows images of him happily, if not wholly successfully, looking after the child.
The action moves forward again to 1997, and it is now Carmen who needs to be changed and fed. She can no longer communicate with the outside world. We hear her thoughts, however. Her daughter Inés is caring for her now, and Carmen worries that one day it might get too much. Carmen’s thoughts are interspersed with scenes featuring a younger Carmen, promising her little daughter Inés that she will always look after her.
Carmen is close to death, Pedro’s eyesight is failing, and their three grown-up children are struggling financially. These circumstances convince the three children that it is time to sell their parents’ flat. But Pedro refuses to countenance this and insists that he will never sell it. Nonetheless, as we find ourselves back again in 1998 in the park with Pedro, the flat has indeed been sold. Two neighbours come across Pedro sitting on the park bench. Once again, the sight of a frail old man alone causes concern. They try their best to convince him to come back to their flat, worried about his safety. He angrily refuses, yet again insisting on his right to independence.
The reason why Pedro wants so desperately to be alone soon becomes clear. It is the anniversary of the day he first set eyes on his beloved Carmen. This year is the first he will spend the anniversary alone without her. But she is not entirely absent. At the end, Carmen enters and briefly joins Pedro. He tells her that he cannot go on without her. Carmen insists that he can, and that he will.
Gracia Morales gathered together hours of footage featuring elderly people talking about their experience of growing old and of being old. A selection of these interviews is available on Remiendo Teatro’s Vimeo page [accessed August 2011]. This footage was filmed by John Dickie, who also provided the footage for the various film sequences that featured in the Remiendo Teatro productions of the play.
Morales, Gracia. 2008. ‘A paso lento’, CELCIT: Dramática latinoamericana, 267, http://www.celcit.org.ar/publicaciones/dla.php [accessed September 2011] (Online Publication)
Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 13 October 2011.