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Translations

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/

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!

 

UCLA DEPARTMENT OF THEATER PERFORMS STAGED READING OF LOPE DE VEGA’S THE WIDOW OF VALENCIA

On Wednesday, November 8th, MFA students in UCLA’s Department of Theater performed a staged reading of our translation of Lope de Vega’s The Widow of Valencia (La viuda Valenciana). The Widow and her servants, Julia and Urbán, were surrounded by a plethora of suitors, some more bumbling than others, in a comedia both daring and remarkably funny. Following his wonderful direction of A Wild Night in Toledo in 2015 and What We Owe Our Lies in 2016, Professor Michael Hackett once again led a talented cast of young actors, and delighted us (as well as the general public) with what has become the highlight of our year—a most satisfying culmination to our calendar, which begins in January with a new play and ends in the fall with this fruitful cross-campus encounter. With the input and insights of our friends in Theater, we begin each new project with more confidence in our ability to translate for performers and performance. We are grateful to the Arts Initiative Grant and the Center for 17th-and 18th-Century Studies for their support of our partnership.

 

We thank Michael Hackett and his students for a terrific show!

 

WORLD PREMIERE OF ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF WOMEN AND SERVANTS BY LOPE DE VEGA

From November 9-18, McMaster University’s School of the Arts will perform Women and Servants, a play by Spain’s great Renaissance dramatist Lope de Vega (see complete schedule and information below). Lost almost since its creation in 1613-14, and rediscovered only recently, in 2014, by Alejandro García-Reidy in Spain’s National Library, Women and Servants has never before been staged in English. Come see this witty, subversive comedy, where women and servants defy their masters—conspicuously absent from the title—as they affirm their freedom to live and love as they choose.

 

On Saturday, November 11, at 7pm, immediately before the 8pm performance, the play’s English translator, UCLA Professor Barbara Fuchs, will present “Love Knows No Master,” a discussion of the play’s challenging representations of personal autonomy, liberty in love, and the defiance of social norms. After the show, Professor Fuchs will join the cast and production team onstage for discussion.

 

Performance Schedule:

November 9 (Preview), 8pm

November 10-11, 8pm

November 15-18, 8pm

November 18, 2pm

 

Location: The Black Box

L.R. Wilson Hall

Price $20

$10 for students and seniors

 

Tickets available from Compass, or School of the Arts: (905) 525 9140 Ext. 27671

 

For more information on performances, visit: http://sota.humanities.mcmaster.ca/2017/11/01/women-and-servants/

 

For information on Barbara Fuchs’ lecture and discussion, see the poster below or visit: http://sota.humanities.mcmaster.ca/2017/11/07/love-knows-no-master-visiting-artist-lecture/

Women and Servants

Staged Reading of The Widow of Valencia

Join us on Wednesday, November 8th at 7:30PM for the staged reading of out working group’s latest translation, The Widow of Valencia.

 

 

Written by Lope de Vega between 1595 and 1599, this juicy play centers on the figure of Leonarda, a young widow, and her posse of suitors, who circle her house at all hours, hoping for a glance, a smile, or a kind gesture. Leonarda, however, is in love with Camilo, and in order to maintain the pious and reserved life that was expected of widows at the time, she devises a plan with her servants, Julia and Urbán, to lure him into her home. To add to the general sense of confusion, Lope sets the play in Valencia—one of the most vibrant and festive Spanish cities of the time—during Carnival, when amorality, chaos, and false identities were normalized and accepted.

 

Clever, compelling, and entertaining, The Widow of Valencia takes on universal themes of love, pride, and social standing, yet it remains unique in its daring portrait of intrigue and female sexuality. Directed by UCLA theater professor Michael Hackett, first year MFA students in the Acting and Directing Programs will bring Lope’s enthralling Golden Age characters to life.

The performance is free, but reservations are required. Please visit http://www.1718.ucla.edu/events/widow/

 

Jennifer L. Monti

widow poster

TRANSLATION WORKSHOP (OCTOBER 17): PROFESSOR EDWARD “MAC” TEST (BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY) VISITS UCLA

Many thanks to Professor Mac Test for workshopping his translation of Juan Pérez de Montalbán’s La monja alférez (The Swashbuckling Nun) with us. As expected, our discussion brought together a fruitful mix of disciplinary backgrounds, including Professor Test’s expertise in contemporary Anglo- and Latin American poetry and English Renaissance literature and our own diverse interests in Golden Age letters, Early Modern Iberian and Colonial American history, and contemporary Spain and Mexico. It was also a meeting of the minds on Baroque drama. Professor Test has translated a text that, given its subject matter, would have instantly jumped to the top of our list of pending projects—a play that, like all those we have taken on, portrays extraordinary agency beyond traditional gender roles (the “swashbuckling” Guzmán shares much with Hipólita from The Force of Habit, Lisena from A Wild Night in Toledo, and Leonarda from The Widow of Valencia). Additionally, Professor Test has introduced us to a play that, like our own favorites, represents the performative nature of (gender and class) identities and the possibility (and frequent necessity) of dissimulation in modern urban life. His visit is a powerful incentive to continue our work—surely there are more (unjustly and unbelievably underappreciated) gems out there, just waiting to be translated! We hope Professor Test has also taken something away from our conversation, and we look forward to seeing his translation published soon. Thank you for visiting us, and very safe travels back to Boise.

 

Paul Cella.

PROFESSOR EDWARD “MAC” TEST (BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY) TO VISIT UCLA ON OCTOBER 17

UCLA’s working group on the comedia looks forward to an upcoming visit from Professor Edward “Mac” Test (Boise State University) on October 17. A translator, poet, and Renaissance scholar, Prof. Test has invited us to workshop his recent translation of Juan Pérez de Montalbán’s play La monja alférez (The Swashbuckling Nun), which is based on the life of Catalina de Erauso, a Basque woman who escaped from a convent, cross-dressed as a man, and fled to America, where she led a life full of adventure. We are especially excited to explore with Prof. Test our common interests in the representation of gender in Golden Age drama—a topic that has occupied us from our first translation of Guillén de Castro’s La fuerza de la costumbre (The Force of Habit) to our most recent work: Lope de Vega’s La viuda valenciana (The Widow of Valencia)—and translation methodology, including challenges particular to translating dramatic verse (into poetry or prose?), and to producing English texts that appeal to scholarly readers and modern audiences. Thank you, Professor Test, for joining us, and welcome to UCLA!

Staged Reading of The Force of Habit

Join us on October 1st at Cal Poly Pomona for a staged reading of our translation of Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit (La fuerza de la costumbre).

 

The Force of Habit (c. 1610) makes spectators wonder if gender is a result of nature or nurture, if it is something that can be learned and unlearned, as the two siblings and protagonists, Hipólita and Félix, are brought up in the habits of the opposite sex. Hipólita, raised by her father on the battlefield, is fierce and competitive, while her brother Félix, who grows up by his mother’s side, is timid and sensitive. Once the family is reunited, however, the two siblings must adhere to traditional gender roles: they must learn how to behave as a man and as a woman—with all the social implications this change brings along. Though the play ends with Hipólita and Félix re-assuming their traditional gender positions, Guillén de Castro’s theatrical piece nevertheless points out the grave limitations of the gender system.

 

The staged reading of the play is part of this year’s Southern California Shakespeare Festival, an Actors’ Equity Association Company in residence at Cal Poly Pomona (https://www.cpp.edu/~scsf/). The Festival’s founder and Artistic Director, Theater professor and actor Linda Bisesti, decided to include a staged reading of the group’s translation of The Force of Habit after attending our workshop (organized by group member and Cal Poly Assistant Professor Marta Albalá Pelegrín) at Cal Poly Pomona on May 2nd, entitled Translating for Performance.

 

The staged reading of The Force of Habit will be preceded by this season’s performance: Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which includes a cast and crew of roughly thirty Cal Poly Pomona students and alumni. The Comedy of Errors opens on Saturday, September 7th, at 7:30 pm at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theater.

 

We invite you to join us on Sunday, October 1st at 2:00 pm for The Comedy of Errors, and again at 5:00 pm for The Force of Habit, for an afternoon filled with fun and back-to-back gender-bending performances. For more information on locations, times, and booking, please visit https://www.cpp.edu/~scsf/performance-calendar/index.shtml

 

Jennifer L. Monti

Graduate Students Conclude a Successful Comedia Summer, Supported by the Pine Tree Foundation of New York

The Comedia in Translation and Performance Working Group and Diversifying the Classics is pleased to announce the successful completion of our first summer grant period supported by the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.

 

The Pine Tree Foundation’s generous two-year grant is aimed at expanding the “Library of Translated Hispanic Classical Plays,” which is home to the working group’s original translations and serves as an online resource for theater practitioners and others interested in the Spanish comedia. In summer 2017, funding from Pine Tree provided stipends for four graduate students to increase and improve the Library’s holdings. (Two more graduate students will receive stipends in summer 2018.) Coupled with an award from the UCLA Arts Initiative—which supported three additional graduate students in an ongoing collaboration with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television—the working group was able to greatly advance their work in terms of both publications and outreach.

 

Thanks to the Pine Tree grant, the working group was able to edit and annotate its translation of The Widow of Valencia, which was drafted during the academic year, and to write an introduction aimed at theater practitioners as well as students and scholars working in English. The process included intensive table-readings and detailed cooperative editing. Widow will be posted on the Diversifying the Classics website for open access, and published in hard copy by Juan de la Cuesta – Hispanic Monographs.

 

Widow will also receive a dramatic reading in November 2017 (date TBA). This activity is part of Diversifying the Classic’s durable collaboration with UCLA’s Department of Theater, through which, in the fall quarter of each academic year, first-year MFA students perform the working group’s latest translation. The performance not only assists the working group in communicating directly with the actors and fine-tuning the translation, but also helps theater practitioners-in-training to become acquainted with the corpus and discover “what lies beyond Shakespeare.”

 

In addition to their work on Widow, graduate students were afforded the space to improve earlier translations (A Wild Night in Toledo, Unhappily Married in Valencia, and What We Owe Our Lies) by submitting them to rigorous new table-reads, carefully incorporating feedback from previous dramatic readings in the Department of Theater, and ensuring that each facing-page translation strictly adheres to the group’s style guide, which was likewise fine-tuned over the summer. Juan de la Cuesta will also publish these translations, as well as 90 Monologues from Spanish Classical Theater, an anthology for actors who—like UCLA’s MFA students—wish to diversify their corpus by incorporating the comedia, a largely untapped resource in English-speaking theatrical circles.

 

Additional areas of research, collaboration, and outreach focused on undergraduate and K-12 education. Graduate students advanced their partnership with About…Productions, a local theater company, by completing a 12-session high-school level unit on Spanish comedia and Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit. This will be published on the Diversifying the Classics website and feature toolkits for exploring the world of early modern Spain as well as current discussions about gender identity, which is the subject of this timely and relevant play.

 

Grant recipients also worked with the UCLA departments of Arts Education and World Arts and Cultures to design a hybrid literature/service-learning course, the syllabus for which is currently under consideration for implementation in the 2017-2018 academic year. In this course, UCLA undergraduates would study early modern comedia alongside modern performance practice and theory, such as Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), and then design complementary curricula to be implemented in local middle schools.

 

A partnership between graduate student grantees and faculty at Cal Poly Pomona resulted in a dramatic reading of The Force of Habit, which will take place on October 1, 2017 as part of this year’s Southern California Shakespeare Festival. This follows a previous co-sponsored event at Cal Poly: a workshop entitled “Diversifying the Classics: Translating for Performance” (held on May 2, 2017), which was attended by approximately one hundred students and faculty and featured presentations and discussions led by Barbara Fuchs and several members of the working group.

 

Graduate students also laid the groundwork for future performances in Los Angeles by establishing contact with companies and performers in Spain and Mexico; built relationships with theater practitioners involved in Encuentro de las Américas, a bilingual festival of arts and culture in which the working group hopes to participate; identified and reached out to faculty from other Southern California campuses whose research and service dialogues with the working group’s; and published several blog posts, ranging from engaging book reviews to inspiring pieces on dramatic forms and drama festivals.

 

Finally, the summer 2017 stipends supported research and preparation for the working group’s next translation, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s Amar después de la muerte (To Love After Death) (1633). This play was chosen in response to strong interest expressed by Spanish and U.S. theater practitioners in its themes and content—namely, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict and conciliation. Set during a rebellion in 16th-century Spain, this will be the first tragedy and historical drama translated by the group.

 

We thank the Pine Tree Foundation and its director, Szilvia Szmuk-Tanenbaum, for supporting our mission, our work, and our students—and we look forward to another productive Comedia Summer in 2018!

 

Payton Phillips Quintanilla