Sadly, I am not conversant in Spanish, so I was a bit worried that some of GALA Theatre’s production of “La Valentía” (“Valor”) might not resonate or might prove beyond my immediate grasp Much to my delight, I discovered that theatre truly is a universal language. Just prior to curtain-up, we were informed that the play, while largely a comedy, was also based upon several traditional Spanish ghost stories. The historic and ancestral notes certainly add a rich depth and dimension to what is otherwise a side-splitting comedy and an incredibly entertaining overall show.
…a side-splitting comedy and an incredibly entertaining overall show…You have to commend Zayas’ wide-ranging vision…
“La Valentía” —while on its surface a story of two sisters grappling over what to do with their family home as it sits adjacent to a very noisy and bothersome highway—is fundamentally about sibling relationships, three sets of siblings to be exact. Guada (Sandra Gumuzzio) and Trini (Luz Nicolás) sit on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to the sell/not sell debate. Guada seems to want to keep the home, after all it is a part of who they are. While Trini, fed up with the constant noise and highway commotion, is determined to sell. The problem is, she has to get her sister’s consent first. Trini thus cooks up a scheme involving another set of siblings, the Specter brothers (Carlos Castillo and Delbis Cardona). They hawk custom-tailored haunting services guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of even the most rational non-believer. To make matters a bit more complex, Guada has rented out a room in the home, via Airbnb, to yet another set of siblings—the ghostly in their own right, Martina (Paloma de Vega) and Martín (Víctor Salinas). Gather three sets of idiosyncratic siblings in one centuries-old homestead and you can be sure that a fair amount of hijinks is bound to ensue.
Identities get crossed, relationships get reconfigured, and there are ghosts galore popping up pretty much everywhere. The production is fast-paced and does not shy away from the kind of quirkiness that makes this particular Spanish comedy a good-time, character-forward farce. Highly-acclaimed Spanish playwright Alfredo Sanzol writes boldness beautifully. The various characters seem to exist in their own larger-than-life orbits while both strategically and haphazardly bumping into one another at the least opportune of times. It all works to laugh-out-loud effect—even for audience members who might not be fluent in Spanish.
GALA Theatre’s set also seems to be a primary protagonist in this play. Samuel Klaas creates a work of art in and of itself with his iteration of the sisters’ multilevel home. That the action is constantly occurring on both levels makes for a fascinating visual display and a raucous theatrical one.
Then, of course, there are the actors. The ensemble cast that GALA, with director José Zayas, assembled for this production manages to bring hilarity to new otherworldly levels. Nicolás is a force of nature unto herself. She embodies the character of Trini, heart and spirit. The actor’s talent, telling in its uninhibited physicality and her ability to shift methodically from one emotion to another, is among the best I’ve seen this season. Gumuzzio as a more staid and demurely delightful Guada really does become the perfect complement to Nicolás’ zanier sister. When occupying the stage at the same time, the pair enthrall. That seems to be a theme with this production. The Specter brothers also accent one another perfectly. Engaged in what is sometimes a standoff, others a gleeful dance, Cardona and Castillo’s timing as a duo is impeccable, and their haunting techniques, particularly when portraying the two ghostly twin sisters from what one could only surmise is a nod to The Shining, is worth the price of admission alone.
Everything about this play is big and bold and unafraid to venture into multiple forms of comedic territory. You have to commend Zayas’ wide-ranging vision here. He certainly isn’t afraid to make moves that are outside the box but yet you never feel as though things have begun to spiral out of control. There’s always an electric tightness to his method that works exceedingly well given the grandiose way he sets out to tell this story. The costume design by Alexa Cassandra Duimstra, lighting by Christian Henrriquez, and sound by Justin Schmitz all play beautifully with Zayas’ vision and the actors’ collective sense of fun and adventure. All told, GALA puts on a show that is not afraid to take some comic risks, big comic risks that happily pay off in spectacular ways.
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission.
“La Valentía” runs through May 14, 2023 at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20010. Masks are required for some performances. For those not fluent in Spanish, GALA provides easy-to-follow English translations through a system of projected surtitles. For more information and to purchase tickets, email email@example.com (email response hours are Thursday-Saturday 7 pm-10 pm, and Sunday 1 pm-4 pm) or go online.