The Spanish Golden Age meets the Jazz Age in “Friendship Betrayed,” a rarely staged 17th-century comedy that WSC Avant Bard has time-shifted rather easily to the Roaring Twenties. The cast is so fizzy that they practically sing their lines and even dance now and then, all without turning the thing plain silly.
“Friendship Betrayed” is the lone play by María de Zayas y Sotomayor, one of the few women writing in 1600s Spain. (It’s being done in solidarity with the Women’s Voices Theater Festival sweeping the city, but it’s not an “official” entry because it’s not a premiere.) The translation by Catherine Larson zips along, at least as handled by director Kari Ginsburg in the small but stylishly turned out Theater Two at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington.
The plot is a thicket of romantic confusion, with a mantrap named Fenisa at the center. “There is room in my heart to love every man I see,” Fenisa murmurs, explaining her inability to curb her enthusiasm for masculine attention — even when the man at hand is supposedly attached to one of her female friends.
Keep track: Laura has surrendered her “honor” to a gallant named Liseo. But Liseo is really after Marcia, whose true love may actually be Gerardo. Fenisa has designs not only on Liseo, but also on Don Juan, who has a thing going with Belisa. And that’s hardly everyone.
The script often swirls the players on and off in neat twos and threes, so your head doesn’t actually swim as the singles tag-team into different couples. Larson’s formal but lively translation suggests that in addition to packing the stage with an uncommon variety of women (and commenting on independence and loyalty), “Friendship Betrayed” is a language-intense play. On several occasions, characters deliver overlapping soliloquies, briefly talking at the same time as they express their secret schemes and desires. It creates an appealingly musical effect.
Ginsburg goes this one better by having Belisa and Don Juan tango as they argue, but Ginsburg doesn’t overstuff the play with frisky business — even though the performances are animated to the hilt. As the compromised Laura, Daven Ralston’s voice is all squeaks and wails, while Melissa Marie Hmelnicky prowls and practically licks her chops as the ravenous Fenisa. Christian R. Gibbs even looks a little like a Fosse dancer in his dapper suit, shiny shoes and tiny hat, especially as his Don Juan spins Alani Kravitz’s dusky Belisa around the stage.
Rhonda Key’s trim, slinky costumes zip you to 1920, as do the few period furnishings on the small stage (the cozy seating is in the round). It’s a quick 90 minutes and hardly deep, but an interesting historical addition to all the premieres in town now.
Friendship Betrayed by María de Zayas y Sotomayor, translated by Catherine Larson. Directed by Kari Ginsburg. Lights, Mary Keegan; sound design, Veronica J. Lancaster. With Megan Dominy, Mary Myers, Connor J. Hogan, James Finley, Brendan Edward Kennedy and Zach Roberts. Through Oct. 11 at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Tickets: $30-$35; Thursday and Saturday matinees are pay-what- you-can. Call 703-418-4808 or visit www.avantbard.org .