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Writing some three centuries earlier, Lope Felix de Vega y Carpio took a much lighter tack when he decided to tweak nobility. In Caballero de Milagro (Gentleman by Miracle), currently being revived by Gala Hispanic Theater, the founder of the Spanish comedia simply pictured a handsome cavalieran upper-crusty figure traditionally considered loyal, generous, courageous, and a champion of the weakas vain, caddish, and an utter bounder.
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Luzman, played by lanky charmer Adriano Gonzalez, is first spotted making an abrupt exit through the window of a girlfriend’s bedroom. As his servant (Luis Caram) helps him tug on his clothes, the cavalier brags so insistently about his physique, his charm, and his irresistibility to women that it’s obvious he’s riding for a fall. Three affairs, two patrons, and an abortive duel later, he gets his comeuppance, having by that time pretty much shredded any dignity his class possesses.
Since contemporary audiences aren’t likely to appreciate what director Hugo Medrano’s program notes refer to as “this harsh critique of the Spanish aristocracy,” Gala has chosen to update it and treat it as uncomplicated farce. A 17th-century maid trilling an aria gets banished from designer Tony Cisek’s timeless Roman streetscape almost as soon as the lights come up and is replaced by a crowd of post-WWII “types”: American soldiers, tight-skirted prostitutes in stiletto heels, debonair aristocrats, and working-class stiffs. Once they’ve shared an opening description of the hero, he tumbles from the window in all his David Nivenesque glory, and hi-jinks, as they say, ensue.
The cast ranges from capable to actively comic (Soledad Campos is delicious playing a tart-tongued tart, and Carla Nakatani survives being dumped unceremoniously in a center-stage fountain with her dignity hilariously intact), though appreciating individual members’ efforts will require patrons who don’t speak Spanish to turn off the lamely voiced simultaneous translation. The night I attended, Gala was experimenting with new headsets, but the bugs in the system had more to do with lackluster reading than with buzzes and pops. Carefully in-sync with the action on stage but drearily uninflected, the headset voices so drained the life out of punchlines that it was hard even to follow the physical comedy. Toward the middle of the second act, I turned them off, opting to sacrifice sense for slapstick, and had a decent time of it. Spanish-speakers will have an obvious advantage. CP