At 400 years old, Fuente Ovejuna shows its age | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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At 400 years old, Fuente Ovejuna shows its age

The Spanish baroque drama proves difficult to modernize.


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The challenge with Spanish baroque drama—and other putative classics that are not Shakespeare—is how not to make doilies out of them. If the peasants in Lope de Vega's little garrison town of Fuente Ovejuna represent a medieval way of life in conflict with the incursion of new values, and if the immoderate brutality and sexual appetites of the Commander of the Order of Calatrava delegitimize his authority as an agent of Juana and Alfonso of Portugal, further justifying the imperial reign of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, all of that has to not sound like I just made it sound, which is the sound of who cares, get on with it, that crown is made of paper, what's he talking about.

Despite great energy and ensemble feel, the actors in Terry McCabe's treatment at City Lit Theater can't seem to get a lot of traction with the language or the narrative. Part of the issue is the translation McCabe is working from, which is such a bone-literal piece of public-domainery that it sounds like it originally existed as a crib to help people read the play in Spanish. All in all, the production ends up, as a great many historical revivals do, at war with its own baggage: the best laughs are off the line; the most endearing moments of acting are the partially mugged asides that barely relate to the actual story.   v

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