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GALA Hispanic Theatre El desdén con el desdén (In Spite of Love)

By • Sep 17th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
El desdén con el desdén (In Spite of Love) by Augustín Moreto
GALA Hispanic Theatre
Tivoli Theatre, Washington DC
Through October 7th
2:00 with one intermission
Performed in Spanish with English surtitles
$20-$40
Reviewed September 16th, 2012

While England had its Shakespeare, Spain had its Siglo de Oro — its “golden century.” Dozens of Spanish playwrights were writing thousands of plays — literally! if the records are to believed. Most of those plays have been lost and most of the playwrights have been forgotten. But one of the survivors is Agustín Moreto (1618-1669). Like his almost contemporary Shakespeare, Moreto took old stories, pruned the scraggly plots, enhanced them with dialogue written in poetry and became a box office hero. One of Moreto’s most popular works, and one that has been revived repeatedly over the years, is El desdén con el desdén (In Spite of Love).

The play is a close cousin of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado about Nothing. You know the familiar comic conundrum. Even now it is popular with TV sitcom writers: The hero claims to believe that love and marriage are a curse. The heroine says that she thinks that love and marriage are a trap. And then ….

A revival of El desdén con el desdén is now playing at the GALA Hispanic Theatre. Director Hugo Medrano’s production is mostly conservative/traditional. His take on 17th Century Spanish aristocrats is Renaissance flashy. Costume designer Alicia Tessari Neiman’s outfits are extravaganzas of brightly colored and patterned satin, lace, brocade and velvet. Hats are gardens of feathers. The finery code applies to both men and women.

But conservatism and tradition don’t absolutely rule Medrano’s show. The first scene includes a male strip tease. The protagonist, a count played by Ignacio García-Bustelo, unburdens himself about his tricky love life. At the same time he unburdens himself of all his clothing and then climbs into a bathtub. His valet, played by Antonio Vargas, listens and fusses and manages to extend a towel in such a way that there is no actual full frontal (or full rear) nudity.

As far as we know, nude scenes were not an element in 17th Century Spanish stage productions. And come to think of it, bathing at that time, was not an important part of Spanish life. It was regarded as unhealthy — as it was in England and all over Europe 400 years ago.

Bathing even smacked of heresy. Proving the point was the fact Moors (Muslims) bathed once — sometimes even twice! — a day.

Another of Medrano’s intriguing innovations comes in the second act: Four well-bred ladies arrange themselves fetchingly in a garden to attract the attention of the recalcitrant bachelor count. They are clothed in a negligée (for the female protagonist Diana, a Catalan princess played by Natalia Miranda-Guzmán) or frilly PJs (for Diana’s attendants). There is plenty of decolletage all around. The scene is quite funny. The ladies sing beautifully, but with increasing volume. Eventual fortissimo warbling not withstanding, the count manages to ignore them.

The settings are a series of simplified baroque interiors and exteriors. Set designer Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden has fashioned scenery so that changes are quick, sometimes accompanied by action at the edge of the stage or by musical interludes.

In charge of music is Mariano Vales. He has selected lively Spanish Renaissance songs and dances (choreography by Lourdes Elias). Behzad Habibzai accompanies on guitar. An array of cast members play castanets, recorder, maracas and tambourine.

Moreto’s characters are a bit thin, a bit stereotypical, a bit caricaturish. And his dialogue can be stilted, archaic and garrulous at times. The GALA cast, however, provides enthusiasm and nuances. García-Bustelo in the leading role does indeed convey the rigors of pretending to be indifferent while actually feeling enthralled. Similarly, Miranda-Guzmán as the leading lady, conveys the rigors of feigned disdain and genuine infatuation. Vargas, as the valet, provides refreshing irreverence that contrasts with the aristocrats high falutin poetry and sentiments.

The verse is sometimes intricate and hard to understand. Making things a little more difficult is the fact that García-Bustelo is from Spain and uses the Castilian lisp, while the rest of the cast use Latin American diction.

For those whose Spanish is shaky or non-existent, translations of the dialogue into English are projected above the stage.

Director’s Notes

While mostly overlooked during the 20th century, Agustin Moreto was recognized by 19th century critics and scholars as one of the best playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age. They saw in his work the values o fthe French theater of the era: unity of time and action, and the clarity of argument and psychological nuances of the characters. Considered a forerunner of the French playwright Marivaux, Moreto’s exquisite and refined language responds to the notion of “marivauge:” the visualization and psychological analysis of the feelings of comedy of love.

I was first drawn to the play by the delightful arguments of the two protagonists, their intellectual battles over the nature of love, and the seductive manner by which they enticed each other to fall in love. How similar are these troubles of love to those that touch the modern heart! I was also drawn to the humor and the comic antics of Polilla, the clever servant, who with unusual culinary metaphors reminds us of the physical nature of love and the sensual passion of the flesh. All this occurs against the backdrop of the Carnival, which permeates the atmosphere with a kind of discreet, almost subtle eroticism.

I hope this introduction to a “new” dramatist, drawn from an inexhaustible source of talent that is the Spanish Golden Age, will entertain you.

Hugo Medrano
September 13, 2012

Photo Gallery

Natalia Miranda-Guzm√°n Carlos Castillo, Natalia Miranda-Guzm√°n
Natalia Miranda-Guzm√°n
Carlos Castillo, Natalia Miranda-Guzm√°n

Photos by Lonnie Tague

Cast

  • Carlos, Conde de Urgel: Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo
  • Polilla: Antonia Vargas
  • El Conde de Barcelone: Manolo Santalla
  • El Principe de Bearne: Carlos Castillo
  • Don Gaston, Conde de Fox: Ricardo Navas
  • Princesa Diana: Natalia Miranda-Guzman
  • Cintia: Lorena Sabogal
  • Laura: Belen Oyola-Rebaza
  • Fenisa: Cecilia De Feo
  • Musico: Behzad Habibzai

Production Staff

  • Director: Hugo Medrano
  • Scenic Design: Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden
  • Lighting Design: Joseph Walls
  • Costume Design: Alicia Tessari Neiman
  • Sound design: Brendon Vierra
  • Properties Design: Tessa Grippaudo
  • Musical Selection and Arrangements: Mariano Vales
  • Choreographer: Lourdes Elias
  • Stage Manager: Cecilia Cackley
  • Technical Director: Andres Luque
  • Production Manager: Anna E. Bate
  • Producer: Abel Lopez
  • House Manager: David Kriesberg
  • Backstage Manager: Jenny Cisneros
  • Assistant Technical Director: Ashley Washinski, Linda di Bernardo
  • Run Crew, Wardrobe: Russell Matthews, Kelly Rice
  • Master Electrician: Jeny Hall
  • Electricians: Michael Brown, Colin Diek, Jeffrey Porter, Will Voorhies
  • Master Carpenter: Linda di Bernardo
  • Carpenters: Mitchell Grant, Ariel Klein, Craig Lawrence, Owen Nichols
  • Scenic Charge: Andrew Mannion
  • Scenic Painters: Linda di Bernardo, Carolyn Hampton, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, Ariel Klein, Ashley Washinski
  • Light Board operator: Cecilia Cackley
  • Sound Board Operator: Crescent Haynes
  • Surtitles Programmer: Laura Smith
  • Surtitles Operator: Esther Gentile
  • Photographers: Lonnie Tague, Paulo Andres Montenegro, Jose Arteaga
  • Graphic Design: Watermark Design
  • Playbill: Christopher Shell

Disclaimer: GALA Hispanic Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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