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ABOUT THE PANEL
MELIA BENSUSSEN is an award-winning director and artistic leader who has directed extensively at leading theatres throughout the country since 1984, including productions at the Huntington Theatre Company, Sleeping Weazel, Shakespeare & Company, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Hartford Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Class Company, Primary Stages, Long Wharf Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, People’s Light and Theatre Company, Bay Street Theatre and Playwrights Horizons, among others. Raised in Mexico City, Bensussen is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of texts, including her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding. She is currently working on commissions and productions at the Huntington Theatre Company and ArtsEmerson in Boston. Her acclaimed work with new plays has taken her to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, New York Stage and Film, PlayPenn, The Playwrights’ Center, Sundance, and other new play programs across the United States. Ongoing collaborations with playwrights include such distinguished writers as Kirsten Greenidge, Melinda Lopez, Jeffrey Hatcher, Masha Obolensky, Charlotte Meehan, and Kate Snodgrass. She has been lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with a range of American playwrights, including Annie Baker, Mat Smart, Edwin Sanchez, Nick Gandiello, Eduardo Machado, Jose Rivera, Lee Blessing, Richard Dresser, and Willy Holtzman.
A graduate of Brown University, Bensussen currently serves as the Chair of the Arts Advisory Board for the Princess Grace Foundation and for the past eleven years has chaired the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College. She also serves on the executive board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).
BARBARA FUCHS is Professor of Spanish and English at UCLA. She is the founder and director of the Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance and its Diversifying the Classics initiative, which has been working to promote Hispanic classical theater since 2014. With Jon Rivera of Playwrights’ Arena, she launched Golden Tongues, an adaptation initiative connecting Los Angeles playwrights with comedia to produce brand-new plays. In 2018, she founded LA ESCENA, designed to bring comedia to Los Angeles audiences. Professor Fuchs has published widely on early modern literature and culture, and on contemporary performance. She has also translated a wide range of early modern Hispanic classics, including seven comedias with the Working Group, now available on the Diversifying the Classics open-access website or in print from Juan de la Cuesta press. Fuchs is currently writing a book on virtual theater, informed by her experience with the 2020 edition of LA ESCENA. In 2020-21, she serves as the UCLA Clark Professor, directing a program on “Resituating the Comedia” at the Clark Memorial Library and Center for 17th and 18th-Century Studies.
ROBIN KELLO is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of English at UCLA. He holds a B.A. in Sociology from NYU and an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The primary area of his research is early modern drama with a focus on travel and intercultural contact, and his current project is a transhistorical dissertation on theatrical representations of forced migration and diaspora. His other interests include early modern drama and narrative prose in Spanish, translation, performance studies, and theater as political engagement.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Ana Caro was deeply familiar with the tradition in which she was writing, and this is evident in Courage. The play is often in conversation with works by some of the most celebrated playwrights of the comedia—a dramatic form that emerged during Spain’s Golden Age. The opening scene on a wild mountain channels Calderon de la Barca’s baroque landscapes, while Leonor’s long made-up story of seduction and revenge recalls the outsize tales in plays by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. The very plot is a rewrite of Tirso’s The Trickster of Seville and closely echoes his Don Gil of the Green Breeches. Playfully conscious of its own genre, Caro’s play presents many of the conventions of the comedia only to bring them under scrutiny and even overturn them.
First popularized in folktales, the mythical Don Juan had become a familiar feature of the comedia stage, beginning with Tirso’s Trickster. Much as in the myth, in Courage Don Juan de Córdoba is a flatterer and an unfaithful narcissist, who seduces women only to abandon them once he grows tired of the affair. His betrayal of Leonor is what sets in motion the action of the play as she follows him from Seville to Brussels seeking redress for the wrong committed against her. Yet in this version Don Juan’s charm proves to be no match for Leonor’s wit, as they rival for the affection of the Countess Estela. Leonor’s male persona offers an alternative version of masculinity, admired by both men and women, in which wit prevails over force.
Like many comedias, Courage reserves a prominent role for the gracioso, a lower-class character who often acts as a comic foil to an upper-class protagonist. Courage’s two graciosos, Ribete and Tomillo, present contrasting dimensions of the traditional role, with one marked by intelligence and the other by buffoonery. With his remarkable insight, Ribete reflects on both the mores of the play and the genre to which he belongs. In one key metatheatrical moment, he objects to the conventions that would have him play the gracioso merely as foolish and fearful, and instead points out that plays often require both the servant’s buffoonery and his intelligent intervention to hold the plot together. He also encourages audiences to think about the place of female playwrights in a world long dominated by men with his news that now “even women… dare to write plays” in Madrid (ll. 1137-38).
If concern for male honor is an important feature of the comedia, as often as not it is there to be ironized. Courage takes this concern and turns it on its head. While Don Juan despairs over his perceived lost honor with long melodramatic speeches, Leonor orchestrates an elaborate plan of revenge to restore hers. This departure from more conservative plots that portray women as in need of a male savior is signaled from the very beginning. Although the opening scene suggests the story will follow a well-trodden path, as Don Juan swoops in to save the helpless Estela from danger, everything changes when Leonor enters the stage. Our hero, the scene makes clear, is no longer Don Juan de Córdoba, and the female protagonist is more than capable of defending herself.
The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs is an engaging reflection on gender and genre that poses important questions about the conventions that dictate modes of living and writing. In undoing and reshaping those conventions, it dares to envision alternatives that open a space for female agency.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Born an enslaved person in Granada, Spain, Ana Caro Mallén (ca. 1601 – ca. 1645) came to be one of the most celebrated playwrights of Spain’s Golden Age. Her work was praised by eminent playwrights and novelists of her day, and she was even included in a book celebrating the Famous Men of Seville. Noting her status among the greats of the Spanish theater, her friend and celebrated novelist María de Zayas wrote, “audiences have praised her, and every great mind has crowned her with laurel and cries of victory, writing her name on the city streets.”
In spite of her renown and success, little is actually known about Caro’s life. The circumstances of her birth only came to light with the recent discovery of a baptismal document, which also reveals she was adopted by an officer of the High Court of Justice in Seville (Real Audiencia y Chancillería). She seems to have spent much of her life in Seville and Madrid—the two most important cities of early modern Spain, where literature and theater thrived—writing professionally for the theaters and public festivities of these cities. Though she was a prolific writer, only a few of her works have survived. These include two plays—The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs (Valor, agravio y mujer) and a chivalric story entitled El conde Partinuplés—short theatrical pieces that emulate the linguistic features of Portuguese, French, Morisco, and West African characters; and also narrative accounts of various political and military events.
Marta Albalá Pelegrín, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Rafael Jaime, University of California, Los Angeles
“Diversifying the Classics”