This post analyzes the motivation of the play Muñeca de Porcelana (China Doll). It might contain spoilers. You have been warned.
Last Saturday, I watched the Spanish adaptation of David Mamet’s “China Doll”. My friend and I kept guessing why the playwright chose that title, but even at the end, we weren’t able to wrap our heads around the idea.
About the play
Muñeca de Porcelana isn’t just another conspiracy theory-based story. It shows one side of a filthy, golden coin- the price of fame, fortune and power, if you wish. Accordingly, it invites the viewers to guess, assume, suspect and mistrust what’s being said right in front of their very noses.
As dialogues get more intense, thinking becomes the only possible option, because at that point, viewers realize that they have somehow become an accomplice of something horrible, and they need an explanation. So they start rubbing their neurons together, to see if a filament of some sort would light up.
Image courtesy of: https://madridesteatro.com
The scene starts with a pompous display of wealth and power, where the big boss- entrusted into the hands of the sublime José Sacristán– barks at his loyal assistant because the latter was handing him the day’s newspaper, when he didn’t really ask for it in the first place. The role of the devoted secretary is strongly portrayed by Javier Godino, the perfect complement to the seniority and experience of his counterpart.
What motivated the play?
The piece clearly insinuates that power is concentrated among an elite few; where having money is not enough to get in the “club”. Membership depends on the family tree and perhaps any ancient personal favor from one clan to another (I doubt if there was one member of that club whose ancestry couldn’t be traced to a Mayflower passenger). Very distinctly, it also shows that even in places that boast of being bastions of democracy, it is still the rich and the influential who hold the key to the machinery of the society.
Oh, but being rich and influential are but tickets to join the club. To remain in it is another hurdle. Exhaustive training is needed if one is to thrive, and a crafty mind with zero moral sense is crucial to triumph. And so that, according to Godino, is the origin of the title, “China doll”. It refers to the fragility of the triumphant based on the fact that he is nothing but a product; victorious, yet always and forever conditioned by the existence of incriminating evidence against him. A chess piece inside the board he is trying to conquer.
The way I see it, the play’s motivation is to open people’s eyes to that filthy side of the golden coin, as mentioned earlier. I’m not sure how society behaved when Mamet launched this opus, but in this generation, people only tend to look at the brightness of an item, not minding the dirty rag that polished it clean.
In an interview, Godino said he had an impression that viewers seem to evade what Mamet is trying to demonstrate, because it causes distress. He alluded to the naïveté to which spectators hold on, as a way to fight the awkwardness. (They’re just missing the point, then. But hey, their money, their choice.)
The ending, though, didn’t distress me. It was just as one would expect people to act given the situation and their current condition.
At the end of the day, we’re all porcelain dolls: fragile in our naïveté. They don’t say “knowledge is power” for nothing.