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The Earthquake in Chile

Updated: Mar 15

A performance of illuminated paper cutouts and storytelling

Paper cutouts and Performance: Patricia O’Donovan

Text: Patricia O’Donovan adapted from the story "The Earthquake in Chile" by Heinrich von Kleist

Box and lights: Mario Keizman

Production: AMBULO Company

Storytelling with Pictures. For adults.

Paper cutout: The earthquake strikes. A hole in the prison wall lets Jerónimo free.

As in Indonesian wayang beber and Japanese Kamishibai, I have separate pictures for the story, not in one continuous scroll. I narrate and play the characters.

My pictures are paper cutouts lit from behind as in Shadow Theater. I also make sounds playing with whistles and rattles.

Kleist's story:

Kleist's story, written in 1805, takes place in Santiago, the capital of the Kingdom of Chile. It is based on real events: on the 13th of May, 1647 Santiago was hit by a 8.5 earthquake which devastated the city. At that time Chile was part of the Spanish empire, and a Colonial Church operated a court responsible for judging all actions that allegedly threatened the Christian faith: the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

The story opens with a young man, Jerónimo Rugera, a Spaniard and lover of Josefa, about to hang himself in prison. Josefa Asterón, daughter of a rich nobleman of Santiago, is condemned to death for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and is about to be beheaded. Just then the earthquake strikes. A hole in the prison wall frees Jerónimo, and those who are about to hang Josefa run for their lives. Jeronimo and Josefa reunite, the people around them forget all about beheadings, sex out of wedlock and trials and just want to survive. Poor and rich suddenly become equal, everybody shares what they have and help each other without caring about social status. Not only the city of Santiago is destroyed and its buildings torn down, but social conventions as well. The disaster opens up a chance for reconstruction and change. Jerónimo, Josefa and their little child dream of a new future, their sins forgiven.

But that chance soon fades.

As soon as the earth's shaking ends, the old codes of behavior, customs and inflexible moral and religious beliefs reemerge. All hands point towards Jerónimo and Josefa as the culprits for the disaster, and they are brutally murdered in a terrible scene of mob violence and chaos. A couple's baby is torn from their arms and killed by the furious mob that mistake it for Josefa's child, who must die because it was born out of sin.

But Kleist ends the story giving us hope: the bereaved couple adopt the orphaned child of Jerónimo and Josefa. It is here, in the healing power of love and forgiveness that we find our real salvation.

Kleist uses the earthquake as a metaphor for the times of crisis where social and cultural barriers break down and like buildings, come crumbling down. The reconstruction that follows once the rubble is cleared, could bring about change, but no Kleist says, our old ways of thinking and living are so deeply rooted in us that they are very, very hard to change.


  • Israel: OFF International Festival of Puppet Theater, Jerusalem. August 2014

  • Israel: "BaBait" Festival. Jerusalem Season of Culture. July 2012

  • Israel: International Festival of Puppet Theater, Jerusalem. August 2011


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