The sound of a heart pounds pa-pum, pa-pum, and blends into the strumming of a classical guitar. The original music composed and directed by David Peralto is refreshing and primes us for a new world. Eight boisterous troubadours, jeering and cheering, with black stools balanced on their heads, enter from the aisles, to recreate street life in 17th century Spain. Actor Jimmy Navarro, as Farruco, takes command of the stage with compelling charisma, grinning with brio.
As a narrator and in character as Farruco, Navarro speaks directly to the audience to guide us into four popular Interludes, based on the theme of love. These are the farcical satires, with bawdy moments, performed in the courtyards of Madrid, between acts of a longer classic play.
It’s important to note that we’re not in Puritan England, where all women actors were classed as whores or courtesans and banned from the stage until the 1660s. Instead, the Loa, or Interlude’s Prologue, draws us into a topsy-turvy world of Spanish theatre, where women played the female roles, starting about 1580 and on into the 1600s. La Baltasara (Menchu Esteban), for instance, lived as a highly respected, well-paid actress, and shrewd business woman, who made tons of money. And here she is, a real 17th century person, who plays Menga, among other roles.
Cabaret Barroco, a fusion of interludes written by six famous Spanish Golden Age playwrights, adapted by Mar Zubieta and Francisco Rojas, and viscerally directed by José Luis Arellano Garcia, is a tour-de-force piece for actors with range. What’s impressive is how this well-orchestrated ensemble, with cohesive communion between eight well-cast, Spanish-speaking actors, is exhilarating to watch. The characters may represent repressed females held behind wrought-iron gates in a male-dominated society, but what goes around comes around. These females are street-smart rogues or picaresque thieves and liars, capable of outwitting their male counterparts.
No detail is wasted in the prologue. The hair-pulling brawl between La Baltasara (Esteban) and La Bolichera (Luz Nicholás) sets us up for understanding that the battle of the sexes is not confined to female versus male, but also female versus female.
Los Putos by Jerónimo de Cáncer is a stand out. The gracioso, Toribio, is played by GALA company member Carlos Castillo, who is developing into a remarkable character actor, in that he is unrecognizable each time he changes roles. Toribio goes to La Doctora, who practices witchcraft, (Nicolás, draped in black), to win the love of Menga, (Menchu Estaban), who abhors him. La Doctora gives him a piece of paper with a powerful magic spell, “California cataplasmis,” written on it, (that loosely translates as abracadabra) that will make the girl fall in love with the boy as soon as she reads it. But Menga, who can’t read, gives the note to Sacristan (Jimmy Navarro), and Escribano (Chani Martín), who both fall in love with Toribio. Pandemonium and chaos ensue.
New York actor Gonzalo Bouza, with his expressive face, is notable in multiple roles, as is Carmen Cabrera as the defiant Eufrasia. And versatile Natalia Miranda-Guzmán in El Muerto, Eufrasia y Tronera, plays the shrewish neighbor, Marta, who is a seamstress, as menacing as an image of Death, using her sewing needle like a lance as she pursues Lorenzo, (Jimmy Navarro) with a shroud until she envelops him.
In El Toreador, by Calderón de la Barca, Miranda-Guzmán flutters a fan as Bernarda, the seductive flirt, who plays coy with the reluctant bullfighter, Cosme Rana, (Chani Martín), until she gets the controlling hand. It’s a light-hearted change of pace. Romantic love ultimately triumphs, enhanced by a vividly choreographed, hilarious bullfight, engineered with the break-away, paneled stage set, cleverly designed with moving panels by Giorgos Tsappas.
Cabaret Barroco: Interludes of Spain’s Golden Age
Closes October 6, 2013
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $38 – $42
Thursdays thru Sundays
Haunting melodies, backed by drums, shift in tone and texture, timed with the characters’ entrances and exits. Musical director David Peralto effectively transposes 17th century street life into the pleasing plaintive, original music, he has co-composed with Alberto Granados-Reguilón. Choreography by Andoni Larrabeiti at moments invites audience members to join into interactive dancing and repartee. From the Loa, song saying “hello”, to the Mojiganga, the epilogue saying “good-by,” you don’t want to miss a breath of the action.
— In Spanish with English surtitles. —
Cabaret Barroco: Interludes of Spain’s Golden Age, a world premiere by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Luis Quiñones de Benavente, Jerónimo de Cáncer, Agustín Moreto, Francisco de Quevedo and Francisco Bernardo de Quirós . Adapted by Mar Zubieta and Francisco Rojas . Music composed by David Peralto and Alberto Granados . Directed and adapted for the stage by José Luis Arellano García .
English translation by David Johnston . Produced by the GALA Theatre, in collaboration with Acción Sur S.L. from Spain . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.