THE BEST SURPRISE is no surprise. From the outset, there's no question about the outcome of "The Knight From Olmedo," a simple, well-worn, 300-year-old love story. Virtuous knight meets girl, woos and wins girl, and is slain by his jealous rival. The pleasure lies in rediscovering Spanish playwright Lope de Vega's poetry-drenched words, and in the vigorous performances by GALA Hispanic Theater.
Written by the prolific de Vega (author of an estimated 1,800 plays) in the charmingly antiquated style of an epic ballad, the "Knight" story would make for a quick skit were it not inflated with gusts of lofty language about love and duty, plus plenty of pithy aphorisms (and ribald jokes) revolving around knights and fights and ladies fair.
Alonso, a celebrated knight from Olmedo, is instantly smitten with pretty young Ines when he spots her at the market in her hometown, the rival city of Medina. Judging from the energy (and hot air) Ines and Alonso devote to their yearning after making eye-contact, it would seem neither has anything else to occupy their time.
A contemporary of Shakespeare, de Vega includes a late-night balcony scene between the two lovers, and adds another very funny Shakespeare-style twist when Ines deceives her father, saying she will become a nun in order to get rid of her obnoxious suitor Rodrigo so she can marry Alonso.
Michael Chaban wrings every drop out of Alonso's swooning, pining poesy, though his preppy, blond looks seem strange for a Spanish swain. As his sweetheart Ines, Leonor Chaves is suitably sweet, with an appealingly spunky streak. But she appears considerably older than her suitor.
De Vega gave the juiciest parts to the comic characters, and that includes just about everyone but the two romantic leads. Especially watchable are Ramona Rhoades as the cackling, conniving crone Fabia, and Chuck Lippman as Tello, Alonso's Sancho Panza-ish sidekick.
Director Hugo Medrano has trimmed some excess from the lengthy epic and keeps things reasonably brisk. Medrano's stark staging makes good use of GALA's unique space -- the long room is divided into three candlelit sets, with scenes rotating neatly among them.
THE KNIGHT FROM OLMEDO -- At GALA Hispanic Theater (Lansburgh Building, 2nd floor) through June 9.