Considering the cultural reinforcement of Shakespearian productions today, “FuenteOvejuna,” a nearly 400-year-old Spanish play by Lope De Vega, appears quite underrated.
It is rare for most people to know that this relatively obscure story ever existed. So it was amazing when, on Oct. 9, UH Theatre Department’s Wortham Theatre production of “FuenteOvejuana” received a full house.
The play begins in the humble village of FuenteOvejuna in Castile.
The village is under the threat of Commander Guzman (William Allen), who is supposed to be the village protector. But Guzman ruthlessly seizes their farm produce and harasses the wives and the maidens of the village.
Allen plays Guzman as menacing, if not a shade childish; he is sanctimonious in persuading himself of his entitlement and privilege. To Guzman, any disagreement is a display of ingratitude. No wonder it’s satisfying that in the play’s historical background, FuenteOvejuna (now Fuente Obejuna) did, in fact, overthrow him.
The play’s precise proceedings of the overthrow may be fabricated for the sake of the narrative, but the characters are fully-defined people who inspire immediate sympathy.The leading lady, Laurencia (played by a fiery, passionate Constance Swan), is the daughter of the village mayor Esteban (Deion Adkins). She tries to fend off the advances of Guzman while living with her love, Frondoso (Jacob Perkel).
Even though the ancient script dictates that her virtue be violated, she retains her feminine agency and rallies the women of FuenteOvejuna. She also rebukes the men of the village for their timidity.
Regarding the three-act pacing (and two intermissions), it is difficult to decipher when the conflict is actually resolved. Because the third act exists as an epilogue, it could have been slotted into the second act, allowing only one intermission. The villagers’ victory is earned, but they seem too easily recovered from the ordeal.
Director Keith Byron Kirk and choreographer Annie Arnoult have an adamant methodology in their blocking and choreography that punctuates the script.
The poetry is often used as source of succinct comedy even in heavy moments. The characters turn to poetry as a means of coping, debate and merriment in tense situations. The poetry is especially highlighted with Laurencia’s passionate tongue.
This is an action play, which reminds us that words are as potent as weapons and as healing as medicine.
“FuenteOvejuna” will run from Oct 9-18 at the Wortham Theatre.