Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fuente Ovejuna Worth the Trip

Richard Ouzounian (Toronto Star) gives Fuente Ovejuna three out of four stars:

"If the Stratford Shakespeare Festival had done nothing else to make us grateful this season – and believe me, they've done plenty already – the introduction of playwright Lope de Vega and his superb work, Fuente Ovejuna, would be enough to earn our thanks.

"An admirable, if not perfect, production of the play opened Friday afternoon at the Tom Patterson Theatre and I can safely call it obligatory viewing for anyone who truly loves the theatre.

"It's shocking that de Vega, one of the world's greatest playwrights, should have taken more than 50 years to get to Stratford, but that's been his fate outside of the Spanish-speaking world.

"His plays, mostly written in the early years of the 17th century, are Shakespearean in their richness and depth.

"Fuente Ovejuna is a rich, seething saga about the evil Guzmán, who holds a small town (Fuente Ovejuna) in terror, raping and murdering the population as he sees fit.

"One day, he goes too far and the tale of what happens next is heart-stopping in its excitement and spine-chilling in its terror.

"Laurence Boswell has adapted and directed the play and his linguistic rendering of the de Vega text is rich, vivid and contemporary without becoming too anachronistic.

"But as a director, Boswell lets down the side a bit. There are two distinct styles of acting going on here and, in fact, this is a watershed production for Stratford. You see the old, dusty rhetoric that James Blendick, Brad Rudy and Stephen Russell try out in stark relief to the realistic – yet poetic – speech of the rest of the cast.

"Poor Scott Wentworth is caught in the middle. He plays the villainous Guzmán and the minute I saw him recycling his De Niro-meets-Pacino performance, I knew he hadn't been well directed. He's capable of much better than we get here.

"Jonathan Goad is a real yet dashing hero and Sara Topham a brilliant heroine, delivering a radical rabble-rousing speech with such brilliance that you wonder when they're going to let her play Antigone.

"There is fine work also from Robert Persichini as a dumb sweet peasant, Severn Thompson as a blazing firebrand and Nigel Shawn Williams as the voice of reason.

"Geraint Wyn Davies and Seana McKenna are almost wasted in the small roles of Ferdinand and Isabella, but the fact that these parts can be cast so well is one of the joys of Stratford.

"However, Peter Hartwell's costumes are musical comedy-clean and lacking in the texture of the script.

"Also, for a play where so many people get maimed and tortured, Evil Dead does much better in the gore department.

"But in compensation, you get some glorious music from Edward Henderson and a supporting cast who give 105 per cent.

"This may not be the best Fuente Ovejuna possible, but it has lots of stunning moments and it's definitely more than worth a visit.

"Yet another reason to go to Stratford this summer."

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