Review: Teatro Círculo Dazzles with Golden Age "Fuente Ovejuna"

Fuente Ovejuna

Written by Lope de Vega

Adapted and directed by Mariano de Paco Serrano

Presented by Teatro Círculo at the Chain Theatre

312 W. 36th Street, 3rd Floor, Manhattan, NYC

October 7-23, 2022

María Fontanals and Juan Luis Acevedo. Photo by Michael Palma Mir
The exceedingly prolific Lope de Vega (1562-1635) was one of the most important writers of the Spanish Golden Age, a flowering in the arts in Spain that took place from roughly 1492 to 1659. Teatro Círculo, a bilingual Latinx theater company that stages Golden Age and contemporary works in Spanish alongside a modern dance series, begins its 2022-2023 season, taking place at midtown's Chain Theatre while Teatro Círculo's East Village home undergoes renovation, with de Vega's Fuente Ovejuna (?1612-1614; published 1619). Set in 1476 and based on historical events, Fuente Ovejuna is named for the village in which it takes place, the citizens of which must decide how to respond to the tyrannical abuses visited upon them by its overlord. Teatro Círculo's brilliantly realized production, presented in Spanish with English supertitles, plunges the audience into the romantic and political turmoil of de Vega's play to captivating effect.
Fernando Gazzaniga, José Cheo Oliveras, & Pablo Andrade. Photo by Michael Palma Mir
Fernán Gómez de Guzmán (an outstanding Juan Luis Acevedo), a commander in the Order of Calatrava, a papally approved Spanish military order, is at the center of the play's major conflicts. He advises the young nobleman Rodrigo Téllez Girón (Gemma Ibarra), a Grand Master in the Order, to take military action against a town held by Spain's King Fernando (Fernando Gazzaniga) and Queen Isabel (María Fontanals), who were at the time of the play's setting busy consolidating their power. Subsequently, Fernán Gómez busies himself with committing outrages against the women of Fuente Ovejuna, something that he views as a privilege of his station. One of the villagers to resist him is the peasant Frondoso (Fernando Gazzaniga), who prevents him from forcing himself upon Laurencia (María Fontanals, fantastic in the role), the daughter of the village's mayor, Esteban (José Cheo Oliveras) and a woman whom Frondoso loves with, to that point, little reciprocation. With Frondoso's life in danger and Fernán Gómez's offenses mounting, how will the citizens of Fuente Ovejuna react? And, just as significantly, how will they deal with the repercussions of that reaction?  
María Fontanals, Gemma Ibarra, & Eva Cristina Vásquez. Photo by Michael Palma Mir
Fuente Ovejuna uses its historical setting to comment on the abuses of political power and/or elite status in its own time, and that commentary remains relevant in our contemporary moment for multiple and, one assumes, clear reasons. So too does its presentation of collective resistance, even if order in the end still depends on the ultimate authority of the king and queen. The forest of ropes that hang from the ceiling of the set, in addition to their practical uses in the action, might be seen to reflect themes of order opposed to disorder and the individual opposed to the collective as they are tied in bundles or untied to dangle separately. The production makes other inspired visual choices as well, from the decision to permit us to view the king and queen only from the back, emphasizing their stature and distance, to a suitably disturbing interrogation scene. The often thundering, martial sound design and the immersive use of space contribute to a feeling of propulsive energy that sweeps the audience along and compellingly situates the superb performances from all involved.

Like the residents of the eponymous village, everything in Fuente Ovejuna comes together into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether you're a diehard fan or neophyte when it comes to classical theater, Fuente Ovejuna delivers an experience as powerful as its protagonists' resolve.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards  

Comments

  1. A classic, timeless, story from Spain's Golden Age. Just in time to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the US. Thanks for sharing!

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