Lope de Vega was the world's most prolific playwright, producing -- according to the high estimates -- nearly 1,800 plays in a 55-year career. This works out to almost three a month. He was also a notorious womanizer, evidently a man of enormous energy. His sobriquet, "the monster of nature," is perhaps not surprising.
Gala Hispanic Theatre is performing his "The Knight From Olmedo" (circa 1615-26). You hesitate to call it a revival, because his works are so rarely performed. And it is impossible to ignore a certain academic duty that envelops the event, a sense of keeping in touch with a distant culture not because we particularly enjoy it but because we don't want to lose it.
Gala's production is quite handsome and careful, but stilted. The story is a comedia historica, based loosely on a real event. The Knight of Olmedo, Alonso, is every woman's dream -- handsome, wealthy, wellborn and a great fighter. He falls in love with Ines, in the neighboring town of Medina, and much of the dialogue is taken up with his romantic declarations about the purity and beauty of his love.
But there is no happy ending. Rather Alonso is victimized by his success and demolished by a jealous rival. Although there is plenty of ominous foreshadowing, the generally comedic and romantic nature of the rest of the play makes the detour into tragedy rather abrupt.
The cast is dressed in impressive raiment pulled together by Cheryl Brand -- the women in wide, oblong hoop skirts and the men in doublets and hose. Michael Chaban, who manages to inject sincerity into even his most saccharine speeches, is rather WASPily handsome as Alonso. Leonor Chaves is dark and serious as his lady love, and Laura Giannarelli is an elegant sister. Ramona Rhoades is excellent as an old fortune teller. But we could use a lot less of Chuck Lippman as the comic servant to Alonso. The Knight From Olmedo, by Lope de Vega. Produced by Gala Hispanic Theatre, directed by Hugo Medrano, sets by Medrano, lights by Kim Peter Kovac, art by Maria Paz Salcedo, costumes coordinated by Cheryl Brand. With Ramona Rhoades, Chuck Lippman, Michael Chaban, Leonor Chaves, Laura Giannarelli, Lisa Ann Walter, Sam Baum, Mark Mendez, David Dennis, Michael Bellafiore, Matt Walker, Karen Roper, Richard Gaetjens. At the Gala Theatre through June 9.