After much anticipation, 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theater is finally here! This project is part of Diversifying the Classics, a multi-pronged initiative to foster READ MORE
Five years after the Diversifying the Classics initiative tackled its first translation of a Spanish Golden Age comedia, actors, readers, and theatergoers will be able to enjoy five new exciting translations in an accessible paperback format from Juan de la Cuesta, forthcoming in Fall 2018.
With the support of the UCLA Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies, the new series will offer access to unmissable Hispanic classics, never before published in English. The series will launch with Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit and Unhappily Married in Valencia; Lope de Vega’s A Wild Night in Toledo and The Widow of Valencia; and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón’s What We Owe our Lies. Each volume includes a general introduction to the comedia, as well as an introductory essay and annotations to each play. Additional information on each play can be found on the Diversifying the Classics website, by clicking on Initiatives > Original Translations. Also forthcoming from Juan de la Cuesta is our long-awaited bilingual anthology of monologues for actors, 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theater. Both the book of monologues and the translation series will be available for purchase directly from Juan de la Cuesta’s website, as well as from Amazon.
Our translation work continues apace, and we expect to publish at least one additional title every year. Our most current effort is Calderón de la Barca’s Amar después de la muerte (loosely translated as Love after Death, though the final title is still pending), which we hope to publish in 2019.
We hope you enjoy reading these fresh pieces as much as we have enjoyed translating them over the years.
Can I love this person? This question is at the center of Caridad Svich’s Labyrinth of Desire, translated and adapted from Lope de Vega’s seventeenth-century La prueba de los ingenios. Laura, an aristocratic heiress courted by three suitors, finds herself falling for her secretary, Diana, who claims to be Felipe, a man in female disguise. Laura’s confusion is not over her affections—of that there is no doubt—but whether her love is permissible. Conflicted over the demands of convention and attraction, she asks her lady-in-waiting, “Can I love this person?”
The force of same-sex desire drives both Lope’s original and Svich’s modern remix, recently directed by Denise Blasor at USC’s Scene Dock Theater. In Blasor’s high-energy production, would-be lovers flit in and out of a courtyard, often colored by the pinks and purples of David Hernandez’s lighting design. Open-arched windows suggest, in Mallory Gabbard’s clever stage set-up, that our desires are never fully private. The stage floor is marked with a maze that seems to have no entrance or exit, just countless Pacman lines leading to dead ends. On occasion, the stage becomes a dancefloor, as pop-music interludes keep the mood light and punctuate the serious business of finding somebody to love. The beat goes on.
The dizzying plot involves the quest for the hand of Laura, played with directness and sincerity by Megan Goodman. Alejandro (Dominic Piccinini), Paris (Brian Yoon), and Ricardo/Infante (Harley Douvier), a trio not lacking in confidence, travel to Ferrara to win the lady over. Yet Florela, Alejandro’s spurned lover, intelligently played by Christina Braa, is determined to prevent Alejandro’s success in courting Laura. She shows up in Ferrara, calling herself Diana and asking to serve Laura, like Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. As secretary, Florela/Diana develops a series of tests for Laura’s suitors in order to prevent Alejandro and Laura from ending up together. A profound friendship—and then romantic desire—develops between the women, which is complicated by Florela/Diana’s claim that she is actually a man, Felipe.
The brilliance of Lope’s—and Svich’s—device is that unlike the myriad cross-dressing plots in early modern drama, Florela/Diana does not rely on a costume in order to gender-bend. She is, rather, a woman who pretends to be a man disguised as a woman. This is the cross-dressing plot taken to its logical limit: if gender is performance, perhaps an utterance serves as well as a pair of pants. Braa makes fine use of this comic potential, deepening her voice and man-spreading like that oblivious dude on the city bus, while Goodman’s incredulity and dawning desire, as she watches and wants her mysterious secretary, are moving to the audience.
Like a late-night club where everyone on the floor is dancing and kissing while two serious lovers quietly converse in the corner, Blasor’s production moves swiftly between the modes of comically erotic romp and dramatic inquiry into the varied shapes of intimacy. Shrey Bhargava as the loquacious Camacho and Shelby Corley as the oversexed Finea, servants to Alejandro and Laura, respectively, provide plenty of laughs, and it is fitting that they end up together, stumbling through the doors hand in hand and walking off the stage at the end. In Blasor’s production, while the two comic figures exit, Florela and Laura, center stage, spin and dance with joy.
The conclusion of the drama is where Svich most rewrites Lope and where Blasor most rewrites Svich. Perhaps surprising to modern audiences, the intensity of same-sex desire is present in Lope’s original, with Laura talking of Diana/Felipe as her husband and, at one point, the two flirtatiously discussing what s/he might do with her hands (Svich renders this as, “I’ve no doubt your hands can work wonders”). Yet such homoerotic banter cannot be the final word in Lope. In the ultimate imperative to couple off his characters—how often early-modern comedy is a party where no one goes home alone—the Spanish dramatist unites Florela with Alejandro, Laura with Paris, and Finea with Camacho. Svich follows Lope but adds an extra pairing: Ricardo/Infante, unsuccessful suitor to Laura, finds himself with Estacio, servant to Paris. Svich’s adaptation thus gives the theme of honor its due while reaffirming the fluidity of desire.
Blasor’s production cleverly takes the theme of desire even further than its sources. In her version, Laura and Florela remain together, which is, of course, what the audience wants. Another way out of a labyrinth is to tear down its walls. All here find a partner, even Paris and Alejandro, who walk offstage, in a final comic moment, flanking Laura’s mother, the Duchess of Ferrara. Blasor states in the playbill that “the most important lesson in this play is that we learn, that once again, love induced errors occur in any century and true love challenges all boundaries of human desire.” We do not love man or woman; we love Florela, or Felipe—a person.
For those interested in the comedia—I see you out there, blog-readers—I’d add another take-away from Blasor’s fantastic production. These plays, rich with complex female roles, are not stodgy arguments for conventional morality, drenched in outdated notions of honor. They dramatize the same maddening and exhilarating questions of gender and identity that we struggle with today. If you think Golden Age Spain did not understand homoerotic or unlicensed desire—can I love this person?—think again. Then put that sexy stuff back on the stage.
On June 18, 2018 at 7:30pm at the Church of the Epiphany (1393 York Avenue), New York Classical Theatre will present a staged reading of our translation of Lope de Vega’s The Widow of Valencia. Stephen Burdman directs this performance of Lope’s play about female autonomy, the social constraints on love, and the performativity of gender roles. The reading is sponsored by The New York City Council Cultural Immigrant Initiative and city councilmember Ben Kallos. Entrance is free.
The Church of the Epiphany, 1393 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021.
For more information, please visit: http://www.newyorkclassical.org/the-widow-of-valencia/
Like this event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/233544880561482/
The Blade of Jealousy, Henry Ong’s adaptation of Tirso de Molina’s La celosa de sí misma, will be playing at 7pm every Sunday from June 24th to August 26th, at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. Directed by Denise Blasor, Ong’s play dramatizes in modern-day Los Angeles Tirso’s exploration of how social circumstances affect self-identity and the capricious nature of love. Blade, first developed as part of the UCLA Golden Tongues initiative to adapt the comedia to contemporary LA, demonstrates the lasting relevance of the questions that the Spanish playwright explored four centuries ago.
Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA. 91423
For an interview with the playwright, https://better-lemons.com/featured/playwright-henry-ong-sharpens-his-blade-always-aiming-to-pay-it-forward/
September 21-23, 2018 will bring LA ESCENA, Los Angeles’ first Hispanic classical theater festival, to the Greenway Court Theater (544 N. Fairfax).
Cutting-edge Mexican company EFE Tres will present Lope de Vega’s El príncipe inocente (The Innocent Prince), a meditation on political power and culpability reimagined as a dialogue in a prison cell, and El Merolico (The Mountebank), a reworking of Cervantes’ comic interludes as delivered by a traveling performer in small-town Mexico (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
Playwrights’ Arena will present the fourth Golden Tongues, brand-new comedia adaptations from LA playwrights in staged readings: Madhuri Shekar’s School for Witches, or Friendship Betrayed, based on María de Zayas’ La traición en la amistad; Janine Salinas Schoenberg’s Like/Share, a riff on Calderón’s Los cabellos de Absalón; and Michael Premsrirat’s La locura de los ángeles/The madness of angels, adapted from Lope de Vega’s Los locos de Valencia.
Sylvia Blush and Jean Carlo Yunen Arostegui will direct Women and Servants, Lope de Vega’s exploration of class, loyalty and desire in a very modern Madrid. The play, only recently rediscovered after 400 years, has been translated into English by UCLA Professor and LA Escena director Barbara Fuchs.
Schedule and ticketing information to follow. For inquiries, please write to LAEscena2018@gmail.com.
LA ESCENA is made possible by the UCLA Center for 17th– & 18th-Century Studies, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Center for European and Russian Studies, Latin American Institute, and Departments of Spanish and Portuguese and English, as well as by the generous support of UC Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
For more information and updates, follow us on Facebook (La Escena Festival), Instagram (@la_escena_festival), and Twitter (@LAescenaLA), and keep an eye out for our hashtags #diversifyingtheclassics and #laescenafestival
While Shakespeare’s name is widely recognized, few outside of Spanish-speaking countries or the world of academic Hispanism are familiar with his Spanish near-contemporaries Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Yet many dimensions of Shakespeare’s plays (lovers’ struggles, mistaken identities, complex plots, witty servants, but also isolation, death, social and moral downfalls) appear also in Spain’s theatrical Golden Age, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which includes plays as compelling and rich as those by the British playwright. 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theatre features excerpts of plays written by both Spain’s best-known classical playwrights, and less familiar writers such as Guillén de Castro and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, as well as the protofeminist nun and intellectual from New Spain (modern-day Mexico), Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
The book of monologues, forthcoming from Juan de la Cuesta in summer 2018, is part of Diversifying the Classics, a multi-pronged initiative directed by Barbara Fuchs at UCLA that aims at fostering awareness and appreciation of Hispanic classical theater among actors, students, academics, and theatregoers alike. The primary aim of this bilingual facing-page anthology is to offer material for actors who are interested in expanding beyond the traditional Shakespearean corpus, while also opening the doors to an immensely rich and relatively unexplored body of work.
The anthology includes a variety of excerpts ranging from comic to tragic, and featuring a number of different characters: kings and peasants, adolescents and elders, fathers, lovers, and buffoons. 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theatre also offers many monologues written for and about women, as they address issues that are as personal as they are universal—love, marriage, self-respect, jealousy, and intellectual equality among others. While in Elizabethan and Jacobean England female roles were played by boys or young men, in Golden Age Spain those roles were played by women, which impacted the plays and monologues written for them. Famous examples include the speech by Laurencia, the young peasant heroine of Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, who vividly describes her kidnapping and berates the village men for their cowardice, and one by Hipólita, the young protagonist of Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit, who says goodbye to her sword after living as a man for twenty years.
Golden Age playwrights created immortal characters whose lives and psychologies resonate far beyond their time and to the present day. Their monologues are malleable and versatile, while the translations, though faithful to the original, steer clear of anachronisms and reflect the lightness of spoken English, bringing the characters and themes home for modern-day actors and audiences. 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theatre will provide today’s actors, students, and theatergoers with a compelling reason to look beyond Shakespeare as they explore the work of extraordinary Hispanic playwrights who have been in the shadows for far too long.
Jennifer L. Monti
On April 24, Erith Jaffe-Berg, Professor and Chair of UC-Riverside’s Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production, and the Latino/a Play Project, a talented group of undergraduate actors and directors, hosted us in Riverside. We were treated to fabulous performances of scenes and monologues from Hispanic classical theater. Given the students’ excitement about the comedia, we encouraged them to explore the tradition further as they develop the personal repertoires they will carry with them as the next generation of theater practitioners.
Our visit was about celebrating the enthusiasm of scholars and actors for early modern Spanish theater and laying the foundation for future collaborations. As UC-Riverside’s LPP explores the classical corpus for future projects, we will look forward to helping them select a play that tackles the social and political issues they want to put on stage. We also look forward to possible collaborations to bring the comedia to Riverside schools.
We are thrilled to be working with Professor Jaffe-Berg and her students, and we congratulate them for the important work they do to promote Latino/a theater!
Never one to pass up an opportunity to watch a comedia in action, I was lucky enough to get one of the few remaining seats for a Saturday performance of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s Los empeños de una casa by the Joven Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico, directed by Helena Pimenta.
Staged in the Sala Tirso de Molina, a black box theater in the Teatro de la Comedia complex, the players made strategic use of a sparsely set stage: two opposing doors represented gateways to the dangerous outside world of Toledo and the inner mysteries of the house, and four floor-to-ceiling reproductions of era appropriate erotic paintings covered in gauzy black curtains alternately hid lovers from sight and revealed their desires. The stripped-down stage and excellent lighting effects allowed the masterful verse of the play to shine with all the pathos and humanity with which they are imbued.
This adaptation of the play was made particularly enjoyable by many of the staging decisions, including the presentation of character asides within a kind of freeze frame: characters spoke to each other or the audience at their leisure, while those not meant to be aware of the goings on froze in place or reacted in slow-motion to the continuing action. A similar technique was used in the JCNTC’s 2016 production of Lope de Vega’s La villana de Getafe, offering a workable solution to the issue of the asides which trouble so many modern actors.
However, one of the most charming pieces of stage work involved the use of props to illuminate and clarify what can be often an overwhelming number of character relationships and intertwined plots in Sor Juana’s twisty comedia. These many enredos were visualized throughout using skeins of thick yarn, with the various characters assigned specific colors which were stabbed through with crotchet needles, tangled, or unraveled to represent romantic couplings and uncouplings both real and longed for. The opening monologue of the wonderfully antagonistic Doña Ana, played by Georgina de Yebra, introduced the humorous storytelling technique of laying out the relationships with colorful yarn, a convenient reminder throughout the play of where each character’s desires lie, and by whom they were being thwarted.
At 120 minutes, the tight pacing swept the lovers through a whirlwind night of confusion which was made all the livelier by various musical interludes. In these moments characters expressed their thoughts and feelings through song, joined on and off-stage by supporting actors/musicians with all the energy of a Rogers and Hammerstein show, which were so fun that I, at least, was left somewhat disappointed that the production didn’t commit to a full-blown musical format.
Aside from the minor changes in the plot —including changing the role of Don Rodrigo from father to brother to better reflect the actor’s age— this adaptation reimagined an ending where Leonor’s leftover suitor, Don Pedro, finds his match in the cross-dressed Castaño. While the adjustment occurs so quickly at the end that there is almost no time to dwell on the implications of a gay relationship for this particular play, Pimenta’s choice to embrace the comedia’s queering of seventeenth century Spanish society represents a larger trend in modern presentations of comedia on both sides of the Atlantic.