“Doña Rosita,” which will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles, was the last Lorca script to be produced before the playwright was murdered, at age 38, by right-wing agents in 1936. It’s one of Arellano’s favorite plays, and the director leaned on López to once again trim Lorca’s original dialogue, reassign speeches and insert newly written lines, all to update the play for a new century.
“We wanted to find a new dimension to it,” López says over Zoom from his home in Madrid. “We wanted to reduce the cast without losing anything. We wanted to condense his poetry to make more room for Rosita’s voice. In the original script, she doesn’t say much till the very end. We wanted to restructure the show so everything we see, everything we hear, comes from her consciousness.”
The original play begins with Rosita as a romantic teenager in the 1880s and progresses, scene by scene, until she’s nearing 40 and still unmarried, in the 1900s. In López’s adaptation, the older Rosita is present from the start as a kind of ghost narrator — like the son in “The Glass Menagerie” or the reporter in “Citizen Kane.” In some of the new scenes, the older character shares the stage with her younger self and comments on her youthful choices.
“Having Rosita look back on her past reveals her as a complex character, as a woman of contradictions who’s trying to decide if she did the right thing,” López explains. “She becomes a spectator in her own life. This approach offers us two lives: the life she has and the life she could have had. At the end we always have this question: Could it have happened differently? That’s why time is so important in Lorca’s plays. He reminds us that we are all the people we have ever been, and so we exist in all those times.”
As the play begins, the orphaned Rosita — raised in Granada by her aunt and uncle — falls in love with her cousin and they plan to wed. But first he must sail to Argentina to help his aging father and earn enough money for married life. As the years go by, he writes many love letters to his fiance, promising to return soon. But “soon” never arrives. The younger Rosita doesn’t understand what’s going on, but the older Rosita knows all too well.
“Traditionally, Rosita is presented as a victim,” López notes, “but this version presents her as contented within her dream. Lorca has her say that she’s unhappy when she goes outside, but when she’s alone with her dream, she’s happy. We see two kinds of love. The love between the aunt and the uncle grows stale with time, but Rosita has a love that doesn’t change. Our version asks, Do we always have to choose the material, the real life?”
Both the younger and older Rosita will be played by one actress: del Pozo. “I worked with her in ‘Yerma,’ ” López says, “so I know she can play the different ages at the same time.” López — who has published adult novels, youth fiction and original plays in addition to his theatrical adaptations — is disappointed that the delta variant will keep him from crossing the ocean to see “Doña Rosita” in Washington. Perhaps it will be restaged in Spain, he says, where Lorca is still a national hero.
“He’s still being taught in high schools and universities,” López says, “and every season we have new productions and new versions of his plays. I myself have written a monologue about his relationship with Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. The only thing that worries me is that some people are trying to say his writing was not as political as it was. That negates one of his most valuable qualities: He gave a voice to those who didn’t have one, even someone like Rosita.”
Doña Rosita the Spinster
GALA Hispanic Theatre, 333314th St. NW. galatheatre.org. 202-234-7174. The show will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles.
Dates: Through Oct. 3.