Play reveals adventurous, productive life of Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega

October 16, 2011

Amorous escapades; a voyage with the Armada; a literary output that included hundreds of plays — the Spanish Golden Age dramatist Lope de Vega led one busy life. His death in 1635 was pretty eventful, too, if Argentinian playwright Mariano Moro’s account is anything to go by.

Moro’s “Quien lo probo lo sabe” (“Those Who Taste It, Know”) — a Spanish-language monologue that kicked off the 14th International Festival of Hispanic Theater in Arlington this past weekend — depicts a just-deceased Lope who experiences a brief resurrection in the crypt.

Still drunk on beauty, self-importance and the vitality of his native Madrid, the writer recalls his adventures and losses, quoting extensively from his own verses for the benefit of an audience he concludes must be a pack of souls in Purgatory.

Interpreted with spry intensity by Argentinian actor Mariano Mazzei — looking like a figure from a Velazquez painting, with a goatee, long hair, white blouse and trousers — the play proved a lively conduit for information about an icon of classical drama.

Reciting verse with an air of rapt elation, stalking around or crouching on the set’s two tombs and — in one comical sequence — tickling himself compulsively with a stalk of wheat (a stand-in for a quill pen), Mazzei’s Lope was ardent, self-assured and a little mischievous.

At any given moment, he might be confessing to a past elopement, recalling the death of a beloved child or disparaging his literary rivals. “Who will remember ‘Life Is a Dream’ by Mr. Pedro Calderon de la Barca in 20 years?” he demanded loftily at one point. (Lope’s own works have recently been staged by GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.)

Dramatic shifts in lighting emphasized the beyond-the-grave storyline, as did sequences in which Lope’s body stalled and twitched like an unruly puppet. (Moro directed and designed the lighting; Veronica Lavenia devised the set and costumes.)

A valentine to the artistic temperament and to the legacy of Spanish-language theater, “Those Who Taste It, Know” (the title quotes from Lope’s writings about love) seemed an apt-enough springboard for this round of the festival, which is hosted annually by Arlington’s Teatro de la Luna.

In upcoming weeks, the festival will showcase stagings from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, as well as a zarzuela (a Spanish music-theater genre) co-produced by Teatro de la Luna and Zarzuela Di Si, another local troupe.

“Those Who Taste It, Know”

Teatro de la Luna’s 14th International Festival of Hispanic Theater. In Spanish with English translation available via headset. (The shows in the festival’s children’s series are bilingual).

Through Nov. 19 at Gunston Arts Center’s Theater Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington.

Call 703-548-3092 or 202-882-6227 or visit www.teatrodelaluna.org.

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