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“The Comedia in Translation and Performance” Translation Series

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.

Coming Soon: 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theatre

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

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!

 

A Night at the Theater: Los empeños de una casa

 

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.

Laura Muñoz

A TALK ON “LOPE DE VEGA ON TELEVISION” BY ESTHER FERNÁNDEZ (RICE UNIVERSITY)

On November 28, Professor Esther Fernández of Rice University presented her research on “Lope de Vega en la televisión” in UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. As her subtitle (“del cartón piedra a la ciencia ficción”) suggests, Prof. Fernández is interested not only in how Lope-lovers have taken his plays from the stage to the screen, but in how the great playwright is being reinvented and repackaged for today’s public. Where TV audiences could once see faithful adaptations of Lope’s plays, they now see him appear as a character in inventive, modern stories about contemporary urban life, romantic intrigue, and, yes, science fiction. Behind this phenomenon, there lie important questions about the relationship between culture (and in particular literary classics) and politics, which Prof. Fernández also raises. To what extent do current efforts to popularize Golden Age literature still need to grapple with the Franco regime’s celebration of Golden Age literature? Do modern political attitudes explain the appeal of Lope de Vega relative to, say, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, who is generally constructed as conservative where Lope, the Phoenix, is associated with a bold individuality and daring independence of thought?

 

Prof. Fernández’s research is thought-provoking and full of fascinating examples from fifty years of television. We thank her for visiting us at UCLA!

 

Paul Cella.

An Early Modern Double: The Comedy of Errors and The Force of Habit at Cal Poly Pomona

 

With unexpected reunions of long lost siblings, gender-bending explorations into nature and nurture, romantic triangles, and the constant threat of violence, Guillén de Castro’s 1610 The Force of Habit and Shakespeare’s 1594 The Comedy of Errors bear a family resemblance. On October 1st, members of the Comedia in Performance and Translation working group were fortunate enough to take in this early modern double-header at Cal Poly Pomona as part of this year’s Southern California Shakespeare Festival. Founder and artistic director of the festival Linda Bisesti arranged to follow an afternoon show of Shakespeare’s early comedy with a staged reading of the Guillén de Castro play, organized by Marta Albalá Pelegrín, Assistant Professor of Early Modern Spanish Literature at Cal Poly and working group member.

 

 

The staged reading, performed by many of the same actors from Shakespeare’s comedy, gave voice to our group’s translation, and the large, standing-room-only audience of students and the local community was able to access this rich drama in English for the first time. The actors, including Bisesti and Cal Poly Theater Department chair Bernardo Solano, immediately brought the spectators into Guillen’s complex and intriguing story of familial conflict and gender identity.

 

 

The actors who portrayed the reunited siblings, Hipólita and Félix, deserve extra applause. In Guillén’s drama, the daughter has been raised for battle and dresses in men’s clothes, while the son has been kept at home and taught embroidery. While the overbearing father, Don Pedro, attempts to force his children to adapt to traditional gender roles, Hipólita and Félix refuse—they refuse, that is, until they fall in love. These late scenes of character transition invite current audiences to wonder if the play is essentially a conservative argument for strict gender roles, or a more progressive revelation of the degree to which our gender identities are performances constructed for a social audience.

 

 

After the reading, the actors took questions onstage, where members of the working group joined them in a rich discussion of the play’s implications. The actors shared their thoughts on why they chose to portray their characters in certain ways. What an audience ultimately thinks about Guillén de Castro’s play depends in part on the violence of the protagonists’ transitions out of the gender identities of their youth, and the most troubling aspects of this early modern work were brought out by the insightful reflections of those who played its characters.

 

 

It was both illuminating and enjoyable to participate in that conversation, and the working group is grateful to the wonderful people at Cal Poly for this staged reading. These early modern Hispanic plays deserve a place on stage, and it is a delight to play a role in putting them there. Too many of them have been ignored for too long, but, as the night at Cal Poly reminded us, to retrieve and reimagine them in a new time and tongue is to find that the familiarity of their conflicts, the suspense of their stories, and the richness of their wit remain.

 

Robin Kello