Author: Carles Batlle
Combat has an eight-scene structure, presented as a series of alternating monologues between a woman, known simply as She, and a man, known merely as He. The man is a young, twenty-year-old soldier who has recently enlisted to serve in the war. He spends his last night as a civilian with the woman before going off to war. It is his first sexual liaison and they fall in love. Gradually it becomes evident to the spectator that, in the enigmatic poetry of their monologues, both He and She are alluding to a shared traumatic event that occurred three months after their first amorous encounter and just a moment prior to the initiation of the monologues themselves. Batlle thus presents the audience with pieces of a puzzle that create an intricately designed structure, in which insinuating elements of an anecdote gradually coalesce only to reveal the full picture by the time the play comes to an end. Death, paradoxically, becomes both the point of departure and the point at which the monologues terminate, thereby creating a circular configuration of infinite repetition.
The plot of Combat is interlaced with a series of ekphrastic evocations of John William Waterhouse’s pre-Raphaelite painting The Lady of Shallot (1888) and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s eponymous poem (1832). Both artistic works, based on a female figure of Arthurian legend, serve as points of inspiration for the fictionalization of reality and the portrayal of a so-called “landscape in the aftermath.” In a literal sense, the “aftermath” here refers to a war that is taking place and to the lives of a man and a woman that are extinguished as a result. Batlle’s play uses the painting and poem as intertextual templates in creating a portrait of a war-ravaged landscape from the perspective of death and anguish. In contemplating the space of this landscape, the spectator is invited to ponder the fluid nature of boundaries, identities, and hybridities: those that are spatial, physical, or corporal and those that are aesthetic, ethnic, racial, cultural, or linguistic.