There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
He’s well-educated, prosperous, and from a respected family, and he lies like a rug. An Enron exec, perhaps? Nope, a 17th-century hero in Juan Ruiz de Alarcon’s romantic comedy, La Verdad Sospechosa (“The Truth Can’t Be Trusted”). Don Garcia (Harold Ruiz) has no sooner arrived home from college than he’s regaling acquaintances with wild tales of his exploits. If he hears that a friend has been to a party, he tells of attending a bigger one. In his stories superlatives are the rule, and bending reality to the breaking point is so habitual he scarcely even notices he’s doing it. What’s more, it seems to work. Upon meeting a pair of lovely senoritas (Cynthia Benjamin and Leslie Yanez), he somehow walks off with both their hearts. Alas, he gets their names switched, and he thinks he’s wooing one when sending love letters to the other. Because his father is trying to arrange a marriage for him, and both of the senoritas are on Dad’s shortlist of eligible brides, complications naturally ensue. With Don Garcia tending to utter falsehoods (“I’m already married”) at the drop of a trochee, one lie leads to another, and before long, things get so complicated that he can’t resort to the truth even when it would serve him better. Alarcon, who was born in Mexico in 1581, is sometimes referred to as the first American playwright, but his work is governed by the dramatic rules of Spain’s Golden Age, a time when characters behaved according to moral codes that were every bit as rigidly prescribed as the meter of the verse they spoke. Today, with codes somewhat relaxed, producing La Verdad Sospechosa as a moral attack on the character of liars would quickly curdle the comedy, so director Hugo Medrano has treated the play as a rambunctious romantic farce, editing three longish acts down to two shortish ones, complementing the script’s poetic mendacity with a bit of strobe-effect lovemaking, and casting a cross-dressing actress in a male role. Pretty much all of this works in Gala Hispanic Theatre’s pleasantly acted, sparely designed production. It has taken a while for the company’s designers to get the hang of nonproscenium staging, but Ramon Lopez’s sliding vertical panels and patterned stage floor provide just the right cartoonish setting for a story in which characters are essentially two-dimensional comic constructs. And the rich, brightly hued fabrics in which Alessandra D’Ovidio and Mariana Fernandez have draped them are equally apt. The performances are bubbly and brisk, both onstage and on headset, where the task of matching conversational English to Spanish verse must give everyone headaches—but seems effortless. —Bob Mondello