What do we have here? Raised hemlines, bobbed hair, bathtub gin, and women who take the bull by the horns. Clearly, we are bee’s knees deep in the Roaring Twenties. And it is a heady time for three ladies who share a close friendship, as they also enjoy the attentions of the swell gents of the day.
Does this sound like a classic comedy from 1632, Spain’s “Golden Age
Originally written by one of the most popular writers of 17th-century Spain, Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor’s La traición en la amistad dealt with sexual politics and independent women of the upper classes. Catherine Larson, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University Bloomington, has translated Sotomayor’s sex comedy into Friendship Betrayed that leaps from the page and has the freshness of a play written yesterday.
Like a sinful dessert that you can’t help dip your spoon into, Friendship Betrayed is sophisticated and sexy. Looking at the power of female playwrights, Avant Bard takes an all but forgotten voice from centuries ago and spins it into a fetching production that shows a community of women in turmoil.
Larson’s engaging translation has inspired sensitive and insightful direction by Avant Bard company member Kari Ginsburg. She has set the play in a big city, circa 1920, so that the conflict among the members of the fairer sex comes to life in the time when well-heeled flappers and their admirers bait, switch, and trick each other, friendships be damned. The opening scene where the leading ladies enter in lacy undergarments to get dressed in their flapper finery evoked Clare Booth Luce’s The Women, a play with similar female dynamics. These are independent women, to be sure, for whom the nicer things in life are still appealing, and some of them trade men like others trade recipe cards.
Marcia, who gets too carried away with love, is played with girl-next-door glee by Megan Dominy, a petite ginger. Her best gal pal, Fenisa is a tall brunette, played with cool sophistication by Melissa Marie Hmelnicky. Even though Marcia focuses on one man at a time, and Fenisa is the girl who can’t say “no” to any guy she wants, these ladies operate by a code that places friendship first above male companionship. That is until one of them breaks rank. Marcia is smitten with the handsome Liseo. Fenisa takes one look at Liseo’s photograph and decides she will have what Marcia is having.
Liseo, played to square-jawed perfection by James Finley, is the male equivalent to Fenisa, using his good looks to bed as many females as possible, having already broken the heart and virtue of the wealthy and desirable Laura, played with emotional grace by Daven Ralston. Not satisfied with the wholesome Marcia or sullied Laura, Liseo takes one look at Fenisa on her balcony and decides he cannot resist her charms as well.
“Love has my friendship held hostage,” Fenisa declares as the games begin. The sexual politics are further ratcheted up when Gerardo (played with sensitivity by Brendan Edward Kennedy) takes the stage, revealing his love-sickness over Marcia with whom he is still smitten. Laura takes her case to Marcia, revealing Liseo and Fenisa’s affair and setting up an alliance to gain revenge against the bed-hopping betrayals.
September 10 – October 11, 2015
WSC Avant Bard at
2700 S. Lang Street
Arlington, VA 22206
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets: Thursdays: PWYC
Friday – Sunday: $30 – $35
Aiding and abetting the principal characters in waging war and love,are former lovers, sidekicks, servants, cousins and confidantes aplenty, all portrayed with style and wit by Alani Kravitz (Belisa), Mary Myers (Lucia), Zach Roberts (Felix and Lauro), Christian R. Gibbs (Don Juan), and Connor J. Hogan (Leon).
Ginsburg’s gifted cast handles the presentational aspects of the play with aplomb, taking their asides to the audience and looking fabulous in their costumes. The audience is seated all around the simple, elegant playing area that serves well the intimacy of the play. The actors are further aided by the glamorous, period fashions right out of Harper’s Bazaar, courtesy of costume designer Rhonda Key. The women’s empowerment celebrated in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, of which this play can be seen as an accompaniment, also gets a boost from the other designers: Lighting designer Mary Keegan, sound designer Veronica J. Lancaster (providing scratchy, phonograph sounds of the Prohibition era), and Emily Ann Mellon’s properties designs.
I will admit, I never saw a complete episode of HBO’s popular series Sex in the City, to which Avant Bard draws comparison with Friendship Betrayed. (As soon as Sarah Jessica Parker and company started gabbing about Manolo Blahnik shoes, I found solace elsewhere.) I will take their word for it and let others weigh their similarities. For me, Sotomayor and Larson’s tale of catty flappers is as snappy as the Charleston and a new bobbed hairdo. By the end of the evening, when “love asks for sweet revenge” against betrayed friendships, I think you will agree how sweet it is.
Friendship Betrayed by María de Zayas y Sotomayor .Tranlation by Catherine Larson . Directed by Kari Ginsburg . Featuring Megan Dominy, Melissa Hmelnicky, Alani Kravitz, Daven Ralston, Mary Myers, Zach Robert, James Finley, Brendan Edward Kennedy, Christian Gibbs and Connor Hogan . Costume Design: Rhonda Key . Lighting Design: Mary Keegan Sound Design: Veronica J. Lancaster . Props Design: Emily Ann Mellon . Production Stage Manager: Maggie Clifton . Assistant Stage Manager: Alika Codispoti . Production Dramaturg: Laura Esti Miller . Produced by WSC Avant Bard . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.