Spanish playwright Emilio Williams enjoys a good meta-theatrical challenge. He has written a short play in which Goneril, King Lear’s villainous daughter, defends her conduct. He has penned another in which Claudius, from “Hamlet,” blames his nephew for Elsinore’s woes.
And he has authored “Medea’s Got Some Issues,” which No Rules Theatre Company is producing as part of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival. (The show is co-presented by Spain Arts & Culture, a program that showcases Spanish art and performance in the United States.) In the one-actor comedy, Lisa Hodsoll portrays a brash, foul-mouthed, quip-slinging version of Medea, the Euripides (anti)heroine best known for killing her children.
“I write for actors: I love how fearless they can be when they try to defend their characters and choices,” Williams observed via e-mail while traveling in China. “I thought one of the most difficult characters to defend would be Medea,” so he decided to build a script around such an apologia. While writing, he figured, he’d be able to “learn from Euripides,” whom he admires. “The guy didn’t write a safe play,” Williams says.
As for the comedy, Williams sees humor in self-justifying blowhards. That perspective probably helped him keep his sanity when he was working as a producer for “Choque de Opiniones,” a Spanish-language version of “Crossfire.”
“For me, there is nothing funnier than people trying to be right at any price,” he says. “Or people trying to turn a manipulation into something that sounds ‘true-ish.’ The blunders along the self-righteous path can be both pretty hysterical and scary.”
Williams grew up in Madrid in the post-Franco era, gaining his creative bearings in an environment he remembers as brimming with “radical and beautiful” art. He trained as a journalist, worked for CNN in Atlanta and Washington, among other jobs, and in 2011 decided to relocate to Chicago, a city he think combines “the best of Europe and the best of America.” (“I feel the same way in Washington, D.C.,” he notes.)
But he was living in Madrid when he penned “Medea” in 2009. He wrote it in Spanish, translating it to English before the show’s 2011 New York debut. It’s a play that he can’t stop writing, because the script contains local references that need to be tailored to each production. (The D.C. edition contains some waggish name-checking of this newspaper’s theater critics, for instance.)
“This play is actress-specific, city-specific and venue-specific, so I adapt it every time,” Williams says, noting that the piece has been performed to date in Spain, Estonia, New York and Chicago. To get the D.C. allusions right, he brainstormed with No Rules artistic director Joshua Morgan, who is directing the Fringe production, and with Hodsoll.
The playwright says he relished Hodsoll’s Medea when he saw her perform the role last fall during an evening of contemporary Spanish theater presented in the District by Spain Arts & Culture, collaborating with some local theater companies.
“In this role, Lisa is like having a panther in your living room,” he says. “You’re scared, but you can’t look away.”
Bouncing offbeats buoy a wistful melody on “Tan Pronto Baje el Sol,” a new song by the Argentine reggae-rock band Los Pericos. “It’s a song that sounds very ‘Pericos,’ ” guitarist and vocalist Juanchi Baleiron said by phone from Buenos Aires, noting that the tune, recently released on the Los Pericos Web site, was written by the band’s saxophonist, Horacio Avendaño, before he died of cancer last year.
As a tribute to Avendaño, Baleiron and his bandmates decided to add “Tan Pronto Baje el Sol” (Baleiron suggests translating the title as “When the Sun Goes Down”) to the repertoire for the North American tour that will bring Los Pericos to the Howard Theatre on July 15. The song also will appear as a track on a new album that Baleiron expects to be ready by the end of the year.
Baleiron is a founding member of Los Pericos, which launched in the late 1980s. “We were the first reggae band [in Argentina] to make a success and start playing not just for the reggae lovers, but for crossover” audiences, Baleiron says. Rigid adherence to genre was never a high priority. “Reggae took us on a journey as a vehicle” rather than being “a final destination,” he says.
In addition to releasing such albums as “Pampas Reggae,” “Yerba Buena,” “Mystic Love,” “Pura Vida” and many others, Los Pericos has collaborated with Stewart Copeland of the Police and contributed to two Police tribute albums.
Baleiron and his bandmates got a publicity boost a few years ago when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain hung out with them in Buenos Aires, eating choripán, fainá and other Latin American specialties for an episode featured on Bourdain’s program “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. The Los Pericos members were already big fans of Bourdain’s show and books, and the in-person visit was a “wow” experience, says Baleiron, a self-described foodie. He describes Bourdain as “a rocker cooker.”
The chef, in turn, was impressed with the band. “Man, they know how to eat,” he exclaimed on the program.
No word yet on where Los Pericos will be dining while in the District.
“Medea’s Got Some Issues.” July 11, 15, 19, 25 and 27 at the Warehouse, 645 New York Ave. NW. Part of the Capital Fringe Festival. Visit capitalfringe.org or call 866-811-4111
Los Pericos. July 15 at the Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. Visit thehowardtheatre.com or call 202-803-2899.
Wren is a freelance writer.