By Paola De Leon

This September, “Diversifying the Classics,” an initiative directed by Barbara Fuchs at UCLA, brought LA Escena, the first Hispanic classical theater festival.

The festival ran for three days, Sept. 21-23, at the Greenway Court Theater in Los Angeles thanks to the support of UCLA, UC Riverside and USC. It was also co-sponsored by Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS).

It featured six plays that were adapted or modeled upon 17th century Spanish works.

In late 16th-century Spain, theater became the favorite mode of entertainment for male and female audiences alike.

Unlike in public theaters in England, actresses not only performed but were actual divas.

The female presence on the stage certainly shaped classic Hispanic plays in a myriad of ways, including long monologues for actresses and strong female roles.

Diversifying the Classics and the LA Escena Festival precisely aim at diversifying the theatrical canon “beyond Shakespeare” and offering Los Angeles audiences a classical theater that bring new ways of rethinking gender in society.

The festival opened on Friday Sept. 21 with Mexican theater company EFE Tres, which presented “El Merolico” (“The Mountebank”), a spectacle that adapted two “entremeses” (short farcical pieces for the stage) written by one the greatest Golden Age Spanish authors, Miguel de Cervantes.

The play introduced the Merolico, a street merchant who walks around a small town in Mexico.

Condemned to a life of exile, he becomes an observer of human nature.

As a storyteller, the Merolico knows how to adapt Cervantes’ entremeses to different audiences, and thus he presents “El Viejo Celoso” (The old jealous man) and “La Cueva de Salamanca” (Salamanca’s Cave).

The classical adaptation was delivered by actor Fernando Villa, who immersed the audience in the stories where he played every single character.

Thus, with the help of a few props he became Cañizares, the jealous old husband, Ortigosa, the nosy neighbor, Cristina, the maid, and even a barber and a sacristan.

Mexican theater company EFE Tres presented “El Merolico,” where actor Fernando Villa played every character, including a street merchant, a jealous husband and a nosy neighbor among others. (Courtesy of Reed Hutchinson)

Charisma and energy filled the room with laughter and excitement.

The audience played an important role in what made the festival so successful.

Before the play started, there were conversations in Spanish and English overflowing from the seats in the audience.

You could hear people speaking in different accents from different Spanish-speaking countries, people from different ages exchanging their anticipation about the play.

All the dialogue was interpreted in Spanish with supertitles in English, which attracted a diverse group of people.

There were no barriers between the actor, the story, and the audience, because during the one hour and a half that the play lasted we were all standing in a street from a small town in Mexico as one of Cervantes’ characters.

After a feast of plays, bilingualism, translation and adaptation, the festival closed on Sunday Sept. 23, having revived for 21st-century L.A. audiences the works of Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, María de Zayas and Calderón de la Barca.

The festival aimed at celebrating and honoring Hispanic classical theater, and delivering to audiences who otherwise do not have opportunities to see and support art that represents L.A.’s diverse Hispanic and Latin demographics.

Every single seat at the Greenway Court Theater was taken by an eager spectator, proving that there is a need for more events like LA Escena Festival.

Paula De Leon is a fourth-year student at Cal Poly Pomona. She is a contributor to Harvest International.

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