¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer: escrita por una dramaturga del siglo de oro español. Dirigida y diseñada por Mujeres de Hoy.¨
The quote above appears on the playbill of the play, translated as ¨Courage, Betrayal and a Woman,¨ which is currently showing at the Repertorio Español in New York City. The rest of the quote in English reads: ¨written by a woman playwright of the Spanish Golden Age–directed and designed by women of today.¨
Repertorio Español (RE) added this production of the cape and sword comedy by Ana Caro Mallén de Soto, which was published sometime in the 17th century in Spain, to its repertoire in October 2017. RE´s production is directed by Leyma López. On April 21, 2018, I attended, and I highly recommend this polished and engaging production to all who can get to the RE to see it.
This was not my first time at the Repertorio Español, but I had not been in several years. Upon entering, I was greeted warmly at the box office and welcomed by the usher, into the familiar lobby. This was my first experience with the subtitles on the seats. In 2012 RE installed the Simultex In Seat Captioning System (similar to that at the Metropolitan Opera) and this makes their productions, which are performed in Spanish, super-accessible to non-Spanish speakers, and without distracting titles projected on a screen above the stage, as is done in some other theaters. Although I never used the previous system of bulky headphones to hear a simultaneous translation in English, I commend RE´s dedication in promoting theater in Spanish to diverse audiences. Now even deaf people can enjoy the shows in either Spanish or English, by reading the titles.
Honestly, I cannot wait to go back and see Valor, agravio y mujer again. Spanish Golden Age theater is usually written in verse, and this play in particular, is not that easy to visualize with just one read, due to the poetry and the somewhat archaic language. However, the ensemble in this production enthusiastically lifted this text off the page and brought it to breathing and pulsing life!
The interpretation is performed in rich, sumptuous looking period costumes on a virtually empty set, both designed by Leni Méndez. The only adornment to the stage are tall thin movable poles and a platform reached by stairs in the front and on each side. The actors use these structures to situate the action, which is sometimes indoors, on a ship or outside. The light design by Lucrecia Briceño, works in tandem with the set, costumes and sound (by Zulema Clares) to firmly support and elucidate the drama. Nothing else was needed to supplement the superb acting, which completely drew me into this 17th century world.
Zulema Clares stars as the strong, smart and courageous Leonor, who dresses as a man to avenge her honor by hunting down her untrustworthy suitor, Don Juan. She was convincing as both Leonor and Leonardo, with different expression and body movement for each. Don Juan is deftly rendered by Luis Carlos de la Lambona–who at times is confident and cocky and at others, remorseful and contrite.
The play begins with Leonor dressing in men´s clothes. She is aided by her manservant/squire, Ribete. Erick González adds zing to this fun sidekick with captivating movement and gesture. Gerardo Gudiño was Don Fernando Rivera, a clearly delineated and pivotal role as Leonor´s brother. Soraya Padrao (Estela), Maria Cotto (Lisarda), Sendor Juan (Tomillo), Rafa Sánchez (Príncipe Ludovico) and Gonzalo Trigueros (various roles), rounded out the talented and well rehearsed cast.
Unique moments that added humor, drama or delight to the staging, included the lights, mists, poles and movement to portray the voyage by sea, the baroque music, and the use of a male actor (Trigueros) to interpret a female servant.
The plot and message of Valor, agravio y mujer, are universal: a woman wants to confront a man who has taken advantage of her/lied and everyone can relate to this. In the 17th century, when this comedy was written, in real life women rarely would be able to do this–confront him. Sometimes brothers or other family members would take matters into their own hands to avenge her honor and right this wrong with a duel. Ana Caro was definitely ahead of her time, thrusting the female protagonist into the role of avenger and empowering her to determine her own fate. The stellar acting and solid direction make the verse easy to understand and the subtitles, if needed, further facilitate audience engagement. Those who like classical theater, like Shakespeare, will find Valor, agravio y mujer particularly appealing. I hope that you will sample this play, written by a woman about 400 years ago, and staged by women today at the Repertorio Español. I know I will return to see it again!
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission.
Valor, Agravio y Mujer is currently in repertory, and plays through August 24, 2018 at the Repertorio Español–138 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016. For more information and tickets, contact the box office at 212.225.9999 or purchase online.