Apart from students and historians, few theatregoers in North America know the play Fuenteovejuna . Yet it's one of the most famous works by the prolific Lope de Vega , a Spanish contemporary of Shakespeare. who's credited with writing nearly 2,000 works for the stage.
The 1612 play, named after the village where much of the action occurs, tells of a 15th-century peasant uprising against a tyrannical military governor, a rebellion spearheaded by a young woman.
For the recent Ryerson Theatre production, director Eda Holmes used Richard Sanger 's (Two Words For Snow, Not Spain) mellifluous translation, which follows the metre and rhyme schemes of the original. The show nicely captured the tensions in the script, in no small way by using cross-gender casting to emphasize the work's sexual conflicts.
The makeup of the graduating class meant that women had to play many of the male roles, notably of the village elders who fail to stand up to the power structure until they're inspired by their wives and daughters.
The cross-casting extended into the nobility, too, with Ari Millen making a regal Queen Isabel of Castille; she and her husband, King Ferdinand ( Jeffrey Yung ), are just coming to power in this play, decades before she commissions Columbus's New World voyage. The work concludes, in fact, with a paean to the new rulers, harbingers of a bright Spanish dawn.
There's good chemistry between the villainous grand commander ( Kevin Walke r) and Laurencia ( Haley McGee ), the object of his lust, a chemistry that helps drive the action.
McGee's independent character, abducted and raped on her wedding night, grows in power as she rouses the town to action. The entire village takes responsibility for the execution of the grand commander.
Ultimately, the play is a discussion of loyalty: who deserves it, notwithstanding the hierarchy of the social order. By the end, Laurencia realizes the value of the husband she initially rejected and accepts that there's a place for love in her life.