El Mandatario Idiota (The Idiot Ruler) reads like a mad, discarded draft of an eventual masterpiece, pilfered from the treasure chest of the inimitable Cervantes. There’s a deluded ruler, who grows drunker with his own rich descriptions of his increasing power, a seemingly complacent butler who absorbs each new order with inspired reverence, and the ever-elusive crowd, never seen but oft-heard, whose wavering and thus unreliable intuition can “make or break” the reputation of the long-standing Mandatario. It’s all set up to bring the convictions of a carefully-crafted world crashing down.
An old axiom in the theater states that true drama begins when a ritual is broken. Here, we find a newly recruited butler/servant familiarizing himself with the bizarre ritual set forth by his master, El Mandatario. Namely, that he chooses a new servant each day to carry out the particular tasks of said day. In effect, this ensures that none of the Mandatario’s selected servants will be bored. They will only have to work for one day, after all. The implications are baffling. Which ruthless leader from history do you know was ever concerned with alleviating the boredom of his subordinates?
It is a plot fit for the most absurd situations, many of which the aforementioned ruler often finds himself in. It is in these scenes that Ventosilla’s gift for farce is expertly displayed.
Most impressive are the instances in which El Mandatario and Jeremias (the butler), engage in lively discussions centered mainly on the former’s power and range of influence. Each one constantly one ups the other, the one exclaiming his own virtue and virility, the other singing his master’s praises to the umpteenth degree. Finally, what emerges from both their mouths is absolute drivel, where the words emitted simply serve to fill the empty space occupied by just those two people.