Culture

Anal sex and other beliefs

Isabelle Stoffel takes her hit monologue 'The Surrender' from Madrid to Edinburgh

Isabelle Stoffel in Madrid
Isabelle Stoffel in MadridLuis Sevillano (EL PAÍS)

Anal sex created God, one could say after watching Isabelle Stoffel's monologue, The Surrender.

"I was brought up as an atheist," she confesses. "I came to know God through my experience, allowing myself to be fucked in the ass, one time after the other, and then again. I learn slowly, and I am voraciously hedonistic."

The Swiss actress's success has taken her from the Madrid fringe to the stage of the National Drama Center and now to the massive showcase of theater that is the annual Edinburgh festival, where she distributed 8,000 condoms on the streets to encourage people to come to see the show.

According to Stoffel, The Surrender is nothing less than a passionate commentary on the power of certain practices, which are "still enclosed by big taboos."

She places the revelation of anal penetration somewhere between the physical and the mystical, defending it in this production based on her adaptation - with stage direction by Sigfrid Monleón - of the memoirs of New Yorker Toni Bentley, which are written in the style of a confused, spontaneous and crystal-clear confession.

Stoffel first adapted it into Spanish and then into English (very faithful to the original) and German, her mother tongue - an actress in three languages.

When she performs it in Spanish, she astonishes with the her perfect production of the lisping sounds. Not very customary, because hardly five percent of Spanish speakers use it in their daily life. But what it demonstrates is the Swiss-watch-like ability she has for creating theater. "I cannot go above the words if I later want to be able to get them out lightly and naturally."

In the backside, the truth always comes to light"

But as well as Spartan concentration, listening to the phrases in The Surrender requires a carefree acceptance to enter uninhibitedly into what the text brings up.

"In the backside the truth always comes to light," says Stoffel without ruffling a hair, slipping along the stage like a divine cat in rubber and velvet. "A cock in the ass is like the needle on a lie detector. The ass cannot lie: if you lie, it hurts..." On the other hand, one first ought to protect oneself from lies using a merely physical means. "The pussy is conceived to trick men with its enticing waters, its predisposition to open and its angry owners."

This is all on the stage, because drinking a coffee at mid-morning one day in Madrid, the actress keeps the rudeness in check. But not the profundity: "Sex is one of life's driving forces, but I find it tremendously difficult to put into words the power that it transmits. It might be as serious as death, so if you don't apply some irony, it becomes a boring topic. In The Surrender I found that balance."

That is the balance between the transcendent and the light, the unknown and common sense, rebellion and resignation that the piece emits. But as well as a sense of humor, to say what Stoffel says on stage requires guts for an actress who landed in Spain eight years ago and hasn't stopped working in both film and theater since.

There's a tradition that revolves around the search for transcendence through the physical. "Bentley trusts in that as her path to perfection, the one of Saint Teresa," says the actress, who has named her theater company Traspasada (Transferred). "It is after her - after her from Ávila - not because we wanted to become a real estate agency."

"In sodomy, trust is everything. If you resist, they can do you real damage. But once over that fear, once literally transferred, what great pleasure you find on the other side of conventions!

I hope to create a physical shock; you need an intimate, elegant character"

"I've learnt a lot from allowing myself to be taken up the ass, but above all one thing: I have learnt to surrender..." And there it is. On the stage, that is. Because just out of bed, with her face washed, she digresses a bit into her personal experiences.

"To perform you have to experience," she says. And she admits she has surrendered to unconditional love at least a couple of times.

She confides that there might be more. Perhaps they might come during the three months that now await her after her pass through Edinburgh, when she is set to visit Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Mexico City.

There she also hopes to trigger that weak smile that sometimes comes across the audience when it hears the confessions, depending on what they are. "For me anal sex is a literary event," she says.

"The first words started to flow when he was deepest inside me. His quill on my paper. His felt-tip on my blotting paper. His comet in my moon. It's funny from where one gets inspiration. Or how one receives a message."

In English, German or Spanish, Stoffel provokes a calm, ironic smile, neither free from perversion nor the purest solid seductive instinct.

"I hope to create a physical shock; you need to create an intimate, elegant character, even though in each breath, in each movement the instincts are shattered. The stage direction of Sigfrid Monleón helped me a lot in that," she says.

Physical movement, emotional movement, transcendental movement, the Aristotelian soul was that: movement. Saint Teresa, in her mystic calm, implores movement, escape, flight; Toni Bentley in her honest transfiguration into a child of those times and with the streets of Manhattan as witnesses - they try to convince us that without the movement and removal of everyday conventions perhaps we will freeze. Stoffel is here with this unusual and daring monologue to do no more and no less than provoke a thaw.

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