Updated slightly for the Zoom, socially-distanced theatre era we’re in, “The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs” is a fun romp from the 17th century that has a subtle touch of feminism.
See the play for the quality of the work and the acting, and revel in the subtext.
In a time when women had little agency — and what they did have derived from the men in their lives (fathers, brothers, husbands) that allowed them to go only so far — this tale of assumed identities, women’s chastity, and family honor does give women a voice. The playwright, Ana Caro Mallen (1601 – 1645), born in slavery in Granada, Spain, became one of the most celebrated playwrights and novelists of her time. While she hews to a more conventional ending of happy-ever-after, she gives a woman — Dona Leonor (and her alter ego, Leonardo), brilliantly and passionately played by Natascia Diaz — the power of dictating her own life’s redemption. This was an era where women were not allowed to own anything, not even the clothes on their backs (in England, it wasn’t until the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882 that a woman could even own her own clothing), so she wrote up to the line. It is a sly and delicate balancing act.
This is a familiar plot in the style of the commedia with many of it’s familiar tropes, including the mythic Don Juan de Cordoba (Alfredo Narciso as the handsome and flummoxed patrician). Don Juan has robbed the estimable Dona Leonor of her reputation, so she hies off to Belgium with her hapless servant in tow, Ribete (Carson Elrod) to find her brother, Don Fernando, and avenge herself.
Along the way, Estela, Countess of Sora (Helen Cespedes), her cousin Lisarda (Sam Morales), Ludovico, Prince of Pinoy (Matthew Saldivar), Rufino/Flora (Anita Castillo Halvorssen), Tibaldo/Fineo (Anthony Michael Martinez), and Tomillo, Don Juan’s servant (Luis Quintero), are all drawn into a fiendishly complicated plot spun together moment-by-moment by Dona Leonor.
But the playwright has some fun within the confines of what was acceptable. Ribete is given a chance to muse on the indignity of being a servant in a commedia — usually a somewhat disreputable, greedy, toadying sort — with the reality that they often keep the action moving and, through their asides, bring some structure to the work.
The actors seemed to have a lot of fun with this gambol. One of the most priceless moments comes near the end when Estela states that she will take as her husband and her lord, Fernando, in effect proposing to him. With a slightly simpering, sighing voice, and some serious side-eye, she gives Fernando notice that he might, in law, be her lord but she’s not a puppet.
Of course, there’s Don Juan’s complete capitulation to Dona Leono. She has outwitted and outplayed him, and tamed the mythic lover on her terms. Publicly.
That’s really delicious and there are lots of witnesses.
The play is directed by Melia Bensussen, the producing director is Nathan Winkelstein, and the Zoom coordinator is Betsy Ayer. They did a nice job of keeping the action moving and the comedic timing intact. But this is really a show that begs for a stage treatment. One can only imagine the constant flurry of exits, entrances, and skulking around in gardens, mountains, castles, and such.
The work has been translated by the UCLA Working Group on the Commedia in Translation and Performance. Red Bull Theater is presenting it in association with Diversifying the Classics|UCLA.
It may be familiar classical territory, but the playwright ups the ante by planting a seed for women’s freedom, and one that has double meaning given the circumstances of her birth. See the play for the quality of the work, the acting, and revel in the subtext.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 10-minute intermission.
“The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs” runs through November 20, 2020 in a virtual environment and is presented by Red Bull Theater, New York, NY. A RECORDING OF THE LIVESTREAM WILL BE AVAILABLE UNTIL 7:00 PM EST ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20. THEN IT DISAPPEARS. For more information, please click here.