|Janine Ann Kehlenbach
¿Cómo lo hace “Fuenteovejuna lo hizo?”: Observations on contemporary presentations of Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna
In one edition of Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega, Donald McGrady offers the following observations regarding the typical structure of a Spanish Golden Age comedia: “La acción de la Comedia generalmente consiste en un movimiento desde una situación de orden social hasta el desorden, con vuelta, al final, al orden” (133). What interests me here is the return “al orden”. Order in 17th century Spain carries a different meaning than it does for us today; but how different? McGrady writes in regards to the comedia, “Esta se escribe invariablemente desde el punto de vista de la sociedad, dando entero apoyo a sus instituciones aceptadas: la iglesia, la monarquía, la organización social de clases, el matrimonio y la familia” (132-133). When one contemplates these established institutions, is it possible to conclude that not all that much has changed, even in modern democracies? The family and marriage continue to be the backbone of many modern day societies. Although the Christian church’s power as a global player has waned, issues surrounding religion dominate the world stage. The monarchy has been replaced by some type of governing body in most countries responsible for the well being of its citizens; and to a certain degree, class structure still exists whether it is influenced by power, blood lines, money or professional status. In other words, in our world, we still pertain to an established order, which we work to maintain. Finally in one last commentary in reference to the comedia, McGrady states, “La Comedia suele presentar al personaje en función de sus relaciones con otros individuos; es decir, se la analiza desde el punto de vista social” (133). I understand this quote to mean that the characters are speaking for society. This does not mean that they are direct representations of its citizens as seen in modern day realism, but they do mirror the beliefs and standards as held by a Spaniard of the Golden Age. Therefore, I come to the ubiquitous question that confronts us when staging a Spanish Golden Age play: how to present these characters to a modern day audience so that we as spectators can connect and recognize the potent value of this material. I thought that the best way to begin to approach this question was to watch present day productions and to see how others are dealing with this challenge.
Since the 1970’s Almagro, Spain has sponsored an international theatre festival that focuses on classical works, and this year special attention has been given to Lope de Vega. On July 6, 2009 I saw a production by Rakatá of Fuenteovejuna directed by Laurence Boswell. In the program the director plants this seed for us to ponder:
Para que una historia valga la pena contarse en director en un teatro, debe tener algún significado para nuetras vidas, debe tener alguna repercusión genuina dentro de nosotros, debe provocar pensamientos y sentimos que quizás nosotros no hayamos resuelto o de las que no nos dábamos cuenta; todo esto, y debe ser entretenido, conmovedor y hasta gracioso, una tarea formidable.
Boswell continues by saying that Lope shows us a variety of human emotions and behaviours in his plays; aspects of human nature to which we can all relate. We are capable of great compassion but also, at times, of extreme cruelty, according to this director. Most of humanity, in order to maintain a relatively livable state, opts to behave in a more gentle manner. However, we are very aware of our own negative thoughts and actions and witness the barbaric nature of human beings on a daily basis. Boswell goes further to suggest that when we act as the Comendor, “con egoísmo, impulsadas por nuestros deseos personales en busca de placer sexual, poder político, riqueza o dominación”, we make the world a smaller place. On the other hand when we act altruistically we can expand our horizons and the world in which we cohabitate. This is the vision that he wants to open up to us with his stage creation. Additionally, Boswell confronts us with this final question, “¿Vivo yo, como la gente de Fuenteovejuna, con y por los demás, o estoy haciendo el mundo un lugar más pequeño al igual de Fernán Gómez y su pandilla? The question is interesting and creates a connection with a modern audience, however, it does suggest a right versus wrong motif for the play. Although the townspeople are grievously abused and the Comendador and his lackeys should be punished, they submit to their animal desires when they violently attack the men and behead Fernán Gómez. Demonstrating his own hesitance before the atrocious acts committed, even King Ferninand declares his apprehension, I am in no way criticizing this production, but rather highlighting one of the many challenging aspects that this play addresses. Lope, by complicating the issue in the end, makes it an even more interesting endeavor. Even though we suffer through a barrage of simple story lines of “good versus bad” in Hollywood and television, I posit that this play does not make it that easy for us as actors, directors or viewers. After all, there is something quite startling watching blood men and parade through a street with a man’s head impaled on a stick.
I will now discuss that actual production. Upon entering the theatre, besides the beautiful surroundings of the old University, the set grabbed my eye immediately. On center stage was constructed a gigantic bucket that mirrored ones to be lowered into traditional stone wells for water. This “bucket” opened and closed, allowing for different entrances and exits and changes in place; and while closed, housed the torture chamber of the townspeople and the killing of the Comendador. It also served as a background for the King and Queen of Spain with a simple, yet delicate play of lighting that the shelves on the inside of the bucket helped support. In front of the stage attached to the lip was an old stone above ground well. This contained water and was used throughout the play by the various characters.
A more detailed look is appropriate for the characters of the Comendador and Laurencia. He had a shaven head and a beard. He was attractive but completely evil as he dominated the stage with a menacing presence and a loud booming voice. Laurencia was his equal in her physicality and vocal capability, walking with wide strides, addressing people and talking using her arms openly with big gestures, often touching people aggressively, and rarely speaking in a soft voice. It was interesting to compare her to Estrella Tavera in La Estrella de Sevilla, also by Lope, that was also at the Almagro Festival in a production by Madrid’s Compañia Nacional de Teatro Clásico. She too had a strong and powerful voice that was often, like Laurencia, at a yelling level. I was uncertain as to whether this was because of the big space, although the acoustics in both places were very efficient, or if it is the sign of a strong woman as a way to differentiate her from the rest of the females in the play. I find that when a character uses their voice to full capacity during an entire show, it becomes more difficult to appreciate his/her character subtleties and growth before our eyes.
As in several versions on line and on dvd that I have seen, there was little humor. The torture scene, as mentioned, happened inside of the bucket with the use of loud screams and red lights. Laurencia and Frondoso hovered in front as they listened and commented on the torture. The level of the torture matched the level of seriousness in the play. As a spectator I was not that moved by their screams during the torture, but rather by these two provocative scenes: the first attemtped rape of Laurencia and the wedding day when the Comendador came and stole her away. In the hunting scene, the director opted for a strong physical exchange between the two characters as the Comendador grossly ran his hands over Laurencia’s body and began tearing of her dress as he threw her to the ground and began undoing his own trousers before Frondoso stepped in. The wedding began with bright costumes, with many reds, singing and dancing done by the townspeople, creating a wonderfully festive mood. Upon the arrival of the Comendador, who watched from above in the area of the audience as the townspeople made fun of him, helped create a sensational tension. The townspeople were mocking him in almost a dumbshow fashion. The instrumental music was recorded, but the company sang and danced incorporating the story told in the song in the script. He and his men slowly descended upon the merry celebration creating a tangible sense of doom. Frondoso was grabbed immediately so that we would not question his lack of interference in saving his new bride. Also, because Esteban is beaten with his staff before the abduction of Laurencia, this actor was rendered physically incapable of protecting his daughter, but the rest of the town did stand by as helpless witnesses.
The costumes were traditional and the men of Calatrava had the traditional cross painted in red on their clothes. Frondoso was appropriately masculine even though he has the more flowery language in his wooing of Laurencia. She was very brusque and brute at the beginning of the play. The director created an atmosphere of fraternity among the townspeople. Flores and Ortuño, appropriately were serpent like in their slithering around of the town, carrying out the Comendador’s orders. One note of interest from the point of view of as audience member is the sense of protection and relief that the King and Queen of Spain offered whenever they were on stage. The first time they entered, all decked in golden layers of royal attire, made me feel safe. It is ironic that ultimately this is what Lope would have wanted as he supported the monarchy in its absolutist nature as protector of all peoples. The difference here between what the monarchy offers as opposed to what the Comendador offers lies the fact that even the peasants and lower social classes deserve honor and respect just as those from above in the newer, monarchial society. True honor lies in each individual and not according to one’s status in society. Even though the clothes do not make the man, however, the most merciful and rational people in the play ended up being Fernando and Isabel.
In order to finalize my look at this production, I must refer to a very strong point of view offered by this director in his notes. He is completely opposed to using this play as a vehicle for political commentary. He writes, “Esta obra ha sido un fútbol politico demasiado tiempo”. It should not be used to support a communist revolution or a facist regime as he states in his program notes. I know that I am taking a more political stance when I direct this play in the Spring of 2010 at the University of Colorado. I will be interested to see what happens in the next version I see done by a Japanese company at the Theatre Festival this coming week.
One note: I have seen various recorded versions of this play. You Tube has a myriad of clips and some are very funny, others more political and others more traditional. One dvd version has the play taking place during the war between the U.S. and Mexico. An entire study could be done looking solely at the versions that appear on You Tube.