The Spanish Wives
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
October 31, 2008
Well, it was interesting to go to see a show on Halloween evening, when basically almost all theatres are trying to paper the house because people are busy partying and getting costumed, "starring" in their own Halloween production that runs only once a year, so why bother go and see actors acting in a play?
I guess my Halloween costume was "theatre critic" this year; so there I was, checking out the Looking Glass Theatre, a cute and intimate basement space with red chairs where The Spanish Wives were ready to "groove." The play, written and directed by Aliza Shane, is a reconfiguration of Mary Griffith Pix's Restoration piece, transplanted in San Francisco during groovy hippie times.
The Governor of Barcelona—the "merry old Lord that has travel'd and gives his Wife more Liberty than usual in Spain"—becomes Professor Antonio Barcelona (Mateo Moreno) who is exploring the world of free love by throwing parties with students in his own house while still trusting that his wife (Sarah Brill) will stay faithful even in this enticing sex-and-drugs-and-wine-and-remixed-songs world. At the other extreme is the visiting professor Marcus Moncada—a jealous Lord, guest to the Governor in the original piece—who doesn't really "dig into" the kinda stuff that's happening downstairs and confines his wife Eleanora (the charming Miranda Shields) to her room upstairs. Of course there's some intrigue, romance, lust, and rock 'n' roll, but most of all the play attempts to be about women's liberation and their ability to make their own choices. The Restoration Era, when we finally hear from female playwrights, can remind us of the fact that women writers can still have a hard time getting their work produced on the big stages. So playwright/director Shane's idea is surely worthwhile and welcome.
I wish I could say that the final product is truly impressive but it isn't. The farce has tons of forced humor mainly because the characters can't be truly believable as they are played by younger actors whom it is hard to see as seasoned professors, so it's difficult to convey parts of the main dramatic conflict: the gap between generations. The whole show seems an okay student production that raises some deja-vu issues which can still be illuminating if done in a strong performative way. No wonder that the most engaging characters are the truly comic ones like Guru Drew, played by a lively and funny Courtney Reed.
Everybody tries hard to be hippie in this show, so it's somehow paradoxical that you don't really get the sense of that freedom that's just another word for nothing else to lose; but you do get lots of words that make your mind struggle to escape to an imaginary Halloween parade for a real bite of that freedom…