I understood more of GALA Theatre’s El caballero de Olmedo than I did of The Saint Plays, which is notable only because the former is performed in Spanish, and my knowledge of the language could charitably be called “primitive.” Hopscotching one’s eyeballs between the surtitles on ceiling-suspended monitors and the action onstage quickly becomes wearying, but the actors play in a broad, physical style that doesn’t demand a complete understanding of the nuances of the dialogue, and the plot is a simple-enough, fatalistic tale of love and jealousy and revenge and justice. GALA has pulled out all the stops for this new adaptation of the four-century-old Spanish favorite, assembling a cast from Panama, Chile, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the U.S., then packing them off to Spain (the homeland of others in the cast) to workshop the material and soak up some of Madrid’s baroque essence. Any added measure of authenticity resulting from these preparations is surely lost on a dumb gringo like me, but the show is shot through with an old-world, pastoral charm that seduces across borders—and like I said, it moves.
José Luis Raymond’s minimalistic set, essentially a series of high gates or ladders set back from a perimeter of sand, pulls double duty as both a literal and metaphorical bull ring, wherein two rivals compete for the hand of the beautiful Ines (Emme Bonilla). Actually, it isn’t even as complicated as all that, as Inez pines only for Juan Caballero’s gallant Don Alonso. Monalisa Arias is all impishness and guile as a conniving old woman ferrying correspondence between the two mutual admirers, and Mel Rocher emits real menace as the suitor scorned. The show is punctuated by traditional period songs performed by the cast, lending the proceedings an agreeable sense of romance and melancholy. Its climax is abrupt and unequivocal. A revelation it is not, but idolatry? Ain’t a jury in Spain that would make that charge stick.