Home > 21st Century, Mayorga Juan, Spanish Literature, Theatre > The Boy in the Last Row, by Juan Mayorga

The Boy in the Last Row, by Juan Mayorga

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

El Chico de la última fila by Juan Mayorga. Translated in French as  “Le Garçon du dernier rang” by Dominique Poulange et Jorge Levelli. The title means “The boy in the last row”

 I have seen Le Garçon du dernier rang last November and I really spent a good time. It is a play written  in 2006 by a contemporary Spanish playwright, Juan Mayorga.

I don’t think it has been translated in English so far but others of Mayorga’s plays have.

On the cover of my copy it is indicated: “French text by Dominique Poulange and Jorge Lavelli, so I wonder if it is a faithful translation or if the original play has been adapted for the French public. As always, the first names have been translated or changed, I don’t know the Spanish names.

The play opens on Germain, a middle-aged frustrated literature teacher and his wife Jeanne. Germain has asked his students to write about their latest week-end. He is now reading their works and ranting a great deal about the emptiness of their thoughts and the poverty of their language. This is a familiar scene to Jeanne: she is used to hearing him thundering about the silliest students he ever had and she is also used to listening their compositions. Then Germain comes to Claude’s text. Claude is the boy sitting in the last row and here the beginning of what he wrote:

Samedi je suis allé étudier chez Raphaël Artole. Cette idée m’était venue parce que depuis un certain temps, je voulais entrer dans cette maison. Cet été, tous les après-midis, j’allais regarder la maison depuis le parc mais un soir le père de Rapha faillit me surprendre à espionner depuis le trottoir d’en face. Vendredi, profitant de ce que Rapha venait d’échouer en mathématiques, je lui proposai un échange : « Tu m’aides en philosophie et moi, je t’aide en mathématiques. » Ce n’était rien qu’un prétexte, bien sûr.

On Saturday, I went to study at Raphael Artole’s place. This idea came to my mind because I had been willing to enter into this house for a while. Last summer, I used to go and look at the house from the park every afternoon, but one night, Rapha’s father almost caught me there, spying. On Friday, as Rapha had just failed in mathematics, I offered him a trade: “You help me in philosophy and I’ll help you in mathematics.” It was only a pretext, of course.

His text ends by “To be continued” Germain is hooked like a soap-opera addict. He wants to know what will happen next, at any cost. Jeanne is immediately suspicious, feeling something unhealthy about Claude’s fascination for Rapha’s family.

The play follows three different subplots, all intricate with one another. The first one is the relationship between Germain and Claude, the second one is the everyday life in Rapha’s family and the third one is the professional life of Jeanne.

 A relationship starts between Germain and Claude — two Roman emperors’ names, btw, Germanicus and his younger brother Claudius, who will succeed to him. Germain, as a failed writer and a desperate teacher, hopes he has in front of him a future writer, someone who could justify by his later works that his carrier as a teacher won’t have been sterile. He wants to reach some immortality through Claude, like Camus’s grammar school teacher did. Indeed, after Camus got the Nobel Prize, he wrote to his teacher Louis Germain – is this a coincidence? – to thank him for his help during his childhood. Germain thus starts lending books to Claude, to develop his literary tastes. He reads the story with avidity, gives advice.

Jeanne also follows Claude’s literary progress and indirectly intervenes in the process as Germain’s professed opinions often come from her. Jeanne worries for Germain and questions the ethics of what Claude is doing. Isn’t he spying Rapha’s family? She is Germain’s moral compass and often needs to remind him where North is. The relationship between the master and the student isn’t of a Pygmalion kind. Claude respects Germain but he also has power over him. Curiosity leads Germain into compromising with moral standards, despite Jeanne’s warnings.

The second plot relates to Rapha’s family. The father, Rapha Senior is something like a salesman or a middleman in a trade company. He and his son share a common passion for basketball. Rapha Senior sounds ridiculous, the average philistin. On stage he was wearing sweaters and was often hopping, like a sportsman does to warm up. He reminded me of Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. He’s a committed and loving father though and a nice husband as well. Esther, the mother is a bored housewife. She seems to have a common body with the house.

Là, assise sur le sofa, feuilletant une revue de décoration, je découvris la maîtresse de maison. Je la fixai jusqu’à ce qu’elle lève ses yeux, dont la couleur s accorde avec celle du sofa.

There, sitting on the sofa, browsing through a decoration magazine, I saw the lady of the house. I stared at her until she lifted her eyes, whose colour matched with that of the sofa.

 Esther constantly intends to redecorate her house as if it would also redecorate her life. She dreams of finishing her law degree started 20 years ago to find a job.

 The third plot is about Jeanne’s job in a contemporary art gallery. The new owners of the gallery think that contemporary art is just nonsense and that they would rather use the place for a more profitable business. She has a month to prove them wrong, so she looks for more sellable art products.

 In addition to the three intertwined stories, thoughts about literature and painting creation processes are scattered all over the text. Germain is the speaker for literature and Jeanne for painting. Juan Mayorga either makes fun of contemporary art or mocks Germain’s incapacity to understand it. Here is Jeanne showing her new catalogue from the gallery: 

Ce sont des objets normaux, mais manipulés pour produire un étonnement. Regarde bien la pendule : 13 numéros. L’artiste intervient dans l’espace domestique en mettant en évidence des signes que nous ne percevons plus à force de les voir. Il parvient ainsi à montrer la mécanisation de notre vie et à défier les frontières entre intérieur et extérieur, entre privé et public. These are normal objects but manipulated to create astonishment. Look at that clock: 13 numbers. The artist intervenes in the domestic sphere by showing the signs we fail to see because we are so used to seeing them. He thus manages to show how our life is mechanical and to defy the boundaries between the inside and the outside, between the private and the public.

 Sometimes it’s funny. I perfectly understand Germain. I’m often puzzled by contemporary art. I read the description and I don’t understand what the artist really meant. And I never know if I’m too stupid to understand or if someone is trying to sell me a lie, though I tend to think my mind isn’t able to grasp the artist’s intention.

The reader peeps into Rapha’s house, along with Germain and Jeanne. Sometimes the spectator feels ill at ease and wonders if Claude isn’t unbalanced.

This is a very powerful text. The scenes aren’t cut off. There is a continuum of reading, with cinematographic effects that I hadn’t understood when I watched the play. I didn’t see the end coming. Here is Germain advising Claude about the end of his story:

Tu sais quelles sont les deux composantes d’une bonne fin ? Le lecteur doit se dire : je ne m’attendais pas à ça et pourtant, ça ne pouvait pas finir autrement. Ca, c’est une bonne fin. Nécessaire et imprévisible. Inévitable et surprenante. Do you know two ingredients of a good ending? The reader must think: I wasn’t expecting this and yet it couldn’t end differently. This is a good ending. Necessary and unpredictable. Inevitable and surprising.

 Juan Mayorga practised what Germain teaches. The denouement is good.

 

  1. February 13, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I read a lot of plays last year but neglected them so far this year. This sounds quite interesting and I like the bit about a good ending (it does immediately remind me of Je vais bien…. and Un homme à distance). I think the saddest people in the world are failed artists. It is very painful. I always had a feeling that many teachers are failed artists or failed researchers, at least my teachers were. But the same might apply to critics to a large extent. I didn’t really get how those different parts of the play work together. is there also a satisfactory ending for Jeanne or is that the ending, that it can’t end satisfactorily?
    This changing of names is weird. But as far as I know there is often an attempt to change cultural references in plays. It would be interesting to see if the Spanish names trigger the same allusions.

    Like

    • February 13, 2011 at 7:51 am

      I thought about Un homme à distance and Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas too when I read this sentence about endings. I remember it also struck me in the theatre. I saw this with two other people and the three of us got out of the theatre thinking we wanted to read the play.

      The three parts of the play work together with the dialogues : with Germain and Jeanne, you get to know about what Claude is writing and what is happening at the gallery. With Germain and Claude, you get to know about Rapha’s family and about what Claude is writing. I can’t tell you more about the end, unless you tell me you don’t want to read it.

      I really don’t like it when they change names. The only adaptation I really enjoy in translations is heights, temperatures, etc.. outside the metric system. Miles are alright but it’s disturbing not to understand how hot/cold it is or how tall a character is when the writer mentions it.
      But in this case, I’m not sure it is just a translation. I should contact the publisher and ask for the Spanish names perhaps they’ll answer me. (I love their name : Les Solitaires Intempestifs) Or the references I saw in the French names just come from my imagination.

      Like

  2. February 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I have a weakness for books in academic settings or about those who work in academia.

    BTW, I was watching a documentary last night about the actor James Mason and he discussed working in a film directed by … Romain Gary.

    Like

    • February 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      I think you’d enjoy the twisted end of this one too. Do you read theatre plays? (or watch them?)

      The film must be Kill!, I see he had a part in it. What did he say about it/him ? I haven’t seen it. I don’t think it’s available in DVD. Apparemment, c’est un navet. (The dictionary says the English expression for this is “It’s a load of tripe”. Do people really say that?)

      Like

  3. Juan Sébastien
    April 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Hi!
    I was looking for informations about Juan Mayorga… and I found your Blog. Pretty impressive, and very interesting. I think I’m hooked!
    Juan

    Like

    • April 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Hi,

      I love comments on older posts, thank you.
      I’m delighted you enjoyed visiting my blog.

      This play by Mayorga stayed with me, it was excellent.

      Like

  4. Liz Ferguson
    October 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Hello
    I just saw the film based on this play – Dans La Maison (In the House). Thought it was very well done. Have you seen it?

    Like

  5. xylosx
    March 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Je viens de voir le film qui est basé sur cette pièce de théâtre. C’était vraiment génail!! Les acteurs sont superbs! Surtout Fabrice Luchini et l’adolescent aussi… Après avoir vu ce film (et 8 femmes) de François Ozon, je suis vraiment convaincu que c’est un réalisateur très talentueux!

    Bravo!

    I have seen the film which is based on the play. It was really great! The actors are superb! Especially Fabrice Luchini and the adolescent also … After seeing this film (and 8 women) of François Ozon, I really believe that he is a very talented director!

    Bravo!

    Like

    • March 15, 2013 at 12:44 am

      Un commentaire en français, cool! Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      I’ve seen the film too. It’s excellent. The cast is a good choice, it’s well directed. You can really feel the creepy atmosphere and you can’t help wondering about the adolescent’s ulterior motives.

      Like

  6. Yash K.Bhagwat
    April 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    I am student of Theatre Arts and hail from India. I am willing to direct this play as my exam oriented play, so can anyone tell me from where to buy this play or send me a link for ebook or hard cover.
    I have searched almost 12 search pages and others sites on Google, but not able to find, so if anyone can help me than it would b really grateful.

    Like

    • April 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Hello,

      I’m sorry but I’ve read this play in French and I have no idea whether it’s even translated into English.

      Like

  7. Jemma
    May 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Hi, this is a great summary of the play! I am translating it as part of a University assignment into English…has anyone got any opinions on particularly good or interesting sections that portray the theme of the play?

    Like

    • May 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Hello,
      Thank you for dropping by. I didn’t know this was given as university assignment. I understand better now why this post gets so many hits!

      Like

  8. Stephen Smith
    March 14, 2016 at 2:09 am

    I think a better translation in English would be The Boy in the Back Row. I would love to know if there is an English translation available.

    Like

    • March 14, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      You’re right, it’s a better translation.
      I’m not sure it’s available in English. According to the hits I get on this post, I’d say it’s studied in Spanish class.

      Like

  1. April 27, 2014 at 6:38 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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