Thrills and Frills: Hurd and Hayden enjoy a torrid, stylish courtship.

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It keeps happening, as you watch Shakespeare Theatre’s fierce and funny staging of a 396-year-old play by a giant of the Spanish Golden Age: You’re caught short by a moment, an exchange, a turn of phrase that feels both time-worn and timely. The poetry of Lope de Vega’s language, the classical dramatic tropes he employs (scheming servants, mistaken identity, hiding behind the furniture), and the play’s driving force (the conflict between love and honor) all seem perfectly at home on the Lansburgh stage, which after all has hosted its share of Shakespearean asides, alarums, and exeunts. But because the particulars of Lope’s plot and character are unfamiliar, you find yourself caught up in the pure narrative delight of it all. Imagine that: It’s like walking blind intoOedipus Rex, or sitting down to watch Hamlet and wondering why the blond guy in the black tights is so darn mopey. Credit some of that thrill-running-up-the-leg frisson to David Johnston’s fresh, vivid translation, which seems equally conversant with passionate flights of rhetoric about Envy and Love as with But much of what makes the piece work is director Jonathan Munby’s unpretentious, good-humored approach, which emphasizes the piece’s farcical elements without letting them undermine its weight. Thus, you’re continually taken aback by some specific choice, only to be reassured by the solid workmanship of the overall construction. Does Michelle Hurd, as the steely Countess Diana—whose hot-and-cold-running feelings for her low-born secretary Teodoro (Michael Hayden) supply the play with its plot—seem too stiff-backed and seething to sustain our interest over the course of two and a half hours? Yes, at first—but it doesn’t take Hurd long to shade the performance with dry wit and emotions that turn on the requisite dime. Do Jonathan Hammond’s and John Livingstone Rolle’s outsized, foppish takes on Diana’s suitors Ricardo and Federico threaten to tilt the evening’s tone into Greater Tuna territory? Yes, but the sharpness of the contrast between their slapstick buffoonery and Hurd’s smoldering nobility delineates Diana’s plight—and more to the point, Hammond in particular is funny as hell. Hayden’s at his best whenever Teodoro is stymied by Diana’s push-me-pull-you affections (which is gratifyingly often), and as Teodoro’s servant Tristan, David Turner is a startling and generous comic presence: His fellow actors get some of the evening’s biggest laughs simply by reacting to him. Miriam Silverman imbues the spurned lover Marcela with a wounded pride that grounds the onstage events, and James Ricks wrings a lot of humanity out of relatively few lines as the servant Fabio. Toss in the STC’s customarily dazzling design work and a cannily sardonic “happy” ending, and you’ve got an evening of theater that’s bracingly unfamiliar and intimately recognizable all at once.