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Performance

License to Love: A Review of Labyrinth of Desire

 

 

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.

 

Megan Goodman (Laura) and Christina Braa (Florela) [Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi]

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.

STAGED READING OF THE WIDOW OF VALENCIA IN NEW YORK

 

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/

WORLD PREMIERE OF THE BLADE OF JEALOUSY BY HENRY ONG

 

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/

 

For tickets, https://thebladeofjealousy.brownpapertickets.com
For theatre information: http://www.whitefiretheatre.com
Be sure to use discount code TBOJ.

ANNOUNCING LA ESCENA – LOS ANGELES’ FIRST HISPANIC CLASSICAL THEATER FESTIVAL

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

 

Collaboration between UCLA and UC-Riverside

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!

 

Diversifying the Classics Visits UC Riverside

On April 24th, from 1:00-3:00PM, we will be taking our show on the road. Destination: UC Riverside.

 

One of the goals of Diversifying the Classics is to share the scholarly work that we conduct during our translation meetings at UCLA with the larger Los Angeles community, to engage in a meaningful dialogue with students, actors, and theatergoers attracted by the endless possibilities of Hispanic Golden Age plays. Last year we presented our work at two workshops: the first, in November 2016, at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (in Pasadena), and the second in May 2017 at Cal Poly Pomona.

 

This April we will visit UC Riverside, where Dr. Erith Jaffe-Berg, Chair of the Department of Theater, Film & Digital Production, is organizing an event that will allow us to share our work with the Latino/a Play Project. The LPP is a student-driven group that puts on a play or reading every quarter, performing on campus as well as at the Barbara and Art Culver Center in Downtown Riverside. Dr. Jaffe-Berg is the group’s faculty advisor for the academic year, and has proved invaluable in creating a connection between our initiative and LPP.

 

We look forward to introducing the students to the rich possibilities of Hispanic classical theater by discussing our recent translations. We will also share five or six previously translated monologues and dialogues with LPP members, who will in turn prepare and offer a brief reading of the pieces. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A session open to the entire audience.

 

We invite you to join us in what promises to be an engaging and interactive afternoon. Stay tuned for an update on the specific event location.

 

 

 

 

April 7 CMRS Symposium on Henry VIII and Calderón’s La cisma de Inglaterra

The Los Angeles Bilingual Foundation of the Arts is staging a classic of the Spanish Golden Age during April 13–22. In La cisma de Inglaterra, or The English Schism, Calderón de la Barca tells the story of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the English break with the Catholic church. While this rich drama of severed religious bonds and the dissolution of centuries of connection between England and Spain suggests comparison with Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, the English context also allows Calderón a dramatic space from which to advise King Philip IV of Spain against contemporary abuses of authority. Calderón’s complex political and psychological portrait invites audiences to reconsider England and Spain in the 17th century as well as the quest for power that continues to drive politics in our own time.

 

In preparation for this enticing theatrical event, the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Asociación Internacional de Teatro Español y Novohispano de los Siglos de Oro (AITENSO) will host a symposium organized by Susana Hernández Araico of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Speakers will include Marta Albalá Pelegrín and Javier Patiño Loira of the Diversifying the Classics project, as well as other international scholars of Spanish Golden Age drama.

 

The full schedule, registration, and transportation information is available here: http://cmrs.ucla.edu/event/enrique-octavo-henry-viii-calderon-1627-la-comedia-y-la-corona-spanish-play-power/.

The Labyrinth of Desire at USC

Caridad Svich’s The Labyrinth of Desire, an adaptation of Lope de Vega’s La prueba de los ingenious will be performed at USC’s Scene Dock Theater from March 29-April 1. Directed by Denise Blasor, Labyrinth tells the story of Florela, who is abandoned by her fiancé when he sets off to win the heart of the beautiful Laura. Florela’s relentless and ingenious efforts to win back her beloved drive the plot of this romantic comedy, which subtly explores the broad range of emotions we feel when in love: delight, excitement, and vulnerability, as well as an irrational sense of infatuation, possessiveness, and jealousy.

 

Performance Dates & Times

 

Thursday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 31, at 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 31, at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 1, at 2:30 p.m.

 

Tickets

Tickets purchased in person at the USC Ticket Office: students, $8; faculty and staff, $8; seniors, $10; general public, $15.

Tickets purchased by phone of online are subject to an additional $2 per ticket fee and a $1 order fee over the entire order.

 

Parking

Discounted parking is available for $10. Please inform the gate officer you are attending a School of Dramatic Arts performance.

For more information, go to: https://dramaticarts.usc.edu/the-labyrinth-of-desire/

2018 Nuevo Siglo Drama Festival at The Chamizal National Memorial

The 2018 Nuevo Siglo Drama Festival will take place April 7-14, 2018 at The Chamizal National Memorial (El Paso, Texas).

 

This year’s festival will feature contemporary plays by Luis Valdez and Xavier Villanova as well as original versions and adaptations of classics by Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, and Cervantes. This is a new direction for the festival, which has traditionally focused on Hispanic classical theater.

 

On Saturday, April 7, Los Actores, a company from El Paso will perform Luis Valdez’s Bernabé, a play about the personal and spiritual journey of a man who is widely believed to be crazy and suffers social marginalization in a small town in Mexico. Bernabés deep connections to his mother, the natural environment, and his Aztec ancestors accompany him on the way to the play’s dramatic conclusion.

 

On Sunday, April 8, the XIPE Colectivo Escénico of Puebla, Mexico will present Aquerón: The River of Tragedy, by Xavier Villanova. Featuring actresses Aline L. Bernal and Cinthia Pérez Navarro, and directed by Martín Balmaceda, Aquerón is an allusive and highly symbolic account of human migration from Mexico to the United States, which calls attention to questions of personal and cultural identity, social injustice, power and vulnerability.

 

Wednesday, April 11 will bring Nuevo Siglo’s first classic, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño. Cuba’s Jazz Vilá Project, a company dedicated to encouraging youth interest in theater, will present Calderón’s timeless reflection on free will and predestination, the story of King Basilio, Segismundo—the son he has imprisoned—and the revolt that imperils a reign.

 

Another canonical favorite, Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna will be performed on Thursday, April 12 by Ciudad Juárez’s Telón de Arena theater company. In the words of Telón de Arena’s Perla de la Rosa, Lope’s famous meditation on despotism, justice, and solidarity is as relevant as ever in today’s Mexico, a “betrayed motherland,” where “the voices of the characters in this mythical town echo in the depths of our hearts.”

 

Rosaura, Paula Rodríguez and Sandra Arpa’s adaptation of Calderón’s Life is a Dream told from the point of view of its main female character, will be staged on Friday, April 13. Teatro Inverso, a Madrid company that aims at preserving Hispanic classical theater through modern interpretations, sees Rosaura, not Segismundo, as the driving force for change in the story, as she asserts herself in a patriarchal society. Using modern theatrical techniques, Rodríguez and Arpa actively engage audiences in Rosaura’s fight to right the wrongs she sees around her.

 

The festival will close on Saturday, April 14 with El Merolico: Entremeses Bululuados, performances by Mexican company EFE Tres Teatro of Miguel de Cervantes’ fast-paced entremeses, or comedic interludes. Combining the figures of the “merolico,” a typically Mexican kind of charlatan street merchant, and the “bululú,” a traditional figure in Hispanic theater who performs several roles in a one-man-show, EFE Tres will transport to modern-day Mexico three of Cervantes’ short works for the stage: “El Viejo celoso,” “El retablo de las maravillas,” and “La cueva de Salamanca.”

 

For more information, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/cham/planyourvisit/2018-siglo-festival.htm.

Love’s a Bitch at UVA

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of watching Dave Dalton’s Love’s a Bitch, an agile and very funny adaptation of Tirso de Molina’s Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes, at UVA: http://drama.virginia.edu/news/story/576

 

Dalton, an assistant professor of drama, has made a name for himself with adaptations of the classics, including a pro-wrestling-inspired version of Wagner’s Ring cycle and lively takes on Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore and Lope de Vega’s Dog in the Manger. In Love’s a Bitch, he combines freshness and humor with a keen eye for the stakes of the text.

 

Dalton pares away much of the bewildering complexity of Tirso’s play, but leaves enough of its whirlwind quality to keep the audience guessing about what will come next. From the very first scene, his adaptation has a kind of x-ray effect, peeling back the layers of the original to reveal its raw ideological and emotional core. Instead of a cross-dressed Juana relating her erotic travails to a servant, Dalton opens with a powerful scene of the runaway discovered by her father. Defying him, she forces him to give her his clothes and continues undaunted to Madrid to right her wrongs. And this is just the beginning!

 

The production’s pared-down scenery helped the audience focus on the language and characters, while the extravagant costumes, by Gweneth West, underscored the key connection between dress and identity in the play. The acting was strong across the board, with the two female leads, Mimi Robinson as Juana and Natalie Pernick as Inés, as real standouts.

 

In Dalton’s hands, the comedia is not only well served but hugely invigorated. Here’s to many more such adaptations and productions!

 

—Barbara Fuchs