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The College of the Holy Cross Theatre Department is in the midst of producing their bilingual production of “Fuenteovejuna,” which is a reimagining of the 17th century play by Lope de Vega during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The show tells the story of the town of Fuente Ovejuna that rises up against the tyrannical Commander, who, with his soldiers, brutally rapes the women of the town and mercilessly beats the men. Professor Edward Isser of the Theatre Department is directing the show, with Spanish Professors Daniel Frost and Ellen Lokos as Associate Directors. The show was adapted by Isser, Frost, and Spanish Professor Helen Freear-Papio.
The setting of the show is, in part, inspired by Spanish playwright Frederico Lorca’s reimagining of the show during the Spanish Civil War. Lorca brought this version of the play to the rural areas of Spain, where large portions of the population were illiterate, according to the “Fuenteovejuna” program. Isser also shared that he included some Spanish dialogue from Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” in the end of the Holy Cross production.
Isser explained that his goal was for “Fuenteovejuna” “to serve as a ‘bridging parable’” between contemporary society and the setting of the show. “I have an obligation to respond to our contemporary situation as both a teacher and as an artist,” he stated. Isser’s inspiration, he shared, was in large part the recent political events in America and, in particular, the “Million Woman March during the weekend of the inauguration.”
“I was blown away watching the march on television and sat glued to the set, thinking about my obligations and capacities (particularly as a man) to productively contribute to the movement,” said Isser. He added that “the contemporary situation in America is so raw and divisive that a contemporary setting would not provide the distance necessary for critical reflection. The production challenges the audience to connect the dots between 1614, 1936, and 2017.”
Laurencia, the protagonist, is played by Emily Arancio ‘20. The character refuses to sit by passively as her town suffers, and she unites the women of the pueblo after suffering her own abuses at the hands of the Commander. Arancio shared that her favorite part of playing Laurencia was the new discoveries she continued to make about the character: “I love her journey throughout the play. Her story is so layered and so deep. Deep enough that everyday I can dig deeper and I absolutely can’t wait to dig and discover. Some days it’s a physical choice, other days it has to do with a new objective in a line. I think about her often; she is ingrained in me and I love that.”
Andrew Farina ’18, who plays the Commander, explained that his role as the dictator pushed him out of his comfort zone. “ I wasn’t interested in playing a bad guy, but rather a human being. I think we all have sides to ourselves or feelings that we repress or hide,” he shared. “This role forced me to dig within myself to find truth to the character. I got to explore a part of myself that I never really get to go to.”
The show includes a range of characters, including Frondoso, Laurencia’s love interest, played by Brendan Sanders ’21; Pascuala, Laurencia’s best friend, played by Nora Grimes ’19; Esteban, the mayor and Laurencia’s father, played by Noah Mailloux ’20; and Jacinta, another of Laurencia’s friends, played by Anne Borzner ’21.
Holy Cross produced “Fuenteovejuna” as a musical, with a few numbers typically sung by the entire ensemble. In addition to this, there is a small band, directed by Professor Eric Culver, that provides musical accompaniment to the show. Teresa Murphy ’19, the chanteuse of the band, begins the performance in a prelude in which she sings “Ojos verdes” and “Y sin embargo te quiero.”
Another supporting character in the play, Mengo, is played by Brandon Brito ’20, who also serves as the co-chair for the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) at Holy Cross. When asked what he likes about his character, Brito shared, “Although Mengo is the town fool, he is the anchor and moral compass of the show. I love that I have such an arc within the show.”
Brito is the only bilingual member of the cast, and this allowed him to have the unique role of helping the cast with their Spanish and promoting the show to the Latinx community. He explained, “Unfortunately, not many people of color do theatre. A lot of students of color come from urban schools that don’t offer these art programs that allow them to discover the love for it. As someone who knows a lot of people on campus, my hope was that I get all my friends to come see the show and possibly feel inspired to get on the stage themselves.”
As a bilingual show, “Fuenteovejuna” produced an extra challenge for everyone involved. Isser explained that his original intention was for only the music to be in Spanish, but after hearing the play read in Spanish, he decided that “English would provide the frame and the Spanish would provide the poetry and passion. In retrospect, this was an insane idea, but it led to incredible discoveries in rehearsals. The student actors had to be absolutely clear in their intention and tone at every moment of the production in order to transcend the language barrier.”
Arancio shared that this was one of her biggest challenges: “For those who do not speak Spanish in the audience, my Spanish lines should be as clear as my English. As long as the objective is clear, the language shouldn’t matter. That being said, I had to be very clear on what I was saying and what was being said to me in Spanish in order to achieve this clarity.”
The actors and Isser all expressed that the Spanish department was a huge help to them in this production by coming to rehearsals and meeting individually with students. “Fuenteovejuna,” in its completed form, serves as a show that is inclusive of audiences of a variety of backgrounds, and speaks to a myriad of contemporary social issues. Brito summed up, “The stage is not just for a certain group of people; it’s time everyone is represented on that stage.”
“Fuenteovejuna” has two final performances in Fenwick Theatre (O’Kane second floor), on Friday, November 10, and Saturday, November 11 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for the Holy Cross Community and $15 for the public.