THE COURAGE TO RIGHT A WOMAN'S WRONGS
VALOR, AGRAVIO Y MUJER
by ANA CARO
Presented in association with Diversifying the Classics | UCLA
This event premiered LIVE on November 16. The recording was available until 7:00 PM EST on Friday, November 20.
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Presented in association with Diversifying the Classics | UCLA
Directed by Melia Bensussen
Featuring Anita Castillo-Halvorssen, Helen Cespedes, Natascia Diaz, Carson Elrod, Anthony Michael Martinez, Sam Morales, Alfredo Narciso, Ryan Quinn, Luis Quintero, and Matthew Saldivar
Included as part of LA ESCENA 2020, Los Angeles’s Festival of Hispanic Classical Theater
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One of the Spanish Golden Age’s most accomplished female playwrights, Ana Caro presents a witty critique of society through the story of Leonor, a woman who sets out to find her one-time lover (Don Juan, naturally) and bring him to justice. The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs is a comedy of wild intrigue and lively ingenuity in which Leonor crosses geographical boundaries and defies social expectations of gender in order to bring her fickle lover to justice and restore her lost honor.
Dressed as the dashing Leonardo, Leonor travels from Seville to Brussels, where she finds Juan and initiates her shrewd plan for revenge. What follows is a hilarious feat of masterful maneuvering, replete with cross-dressing and unexpected twists, in which she repeatedly outwits the men around her. And while the thrill of Leonor’s efforts to seek redress culminates with the expected restoration of her honor and marriage to Juan, the questions raised by her demands for justice make the play anything but conventional. Through this stirring tale of a woman’s courage to right the wrongs she has suffered, the play holds up to scrutiny contemporary notions of masculine honor and offers in their place a vision that opens up space for women and their agency.
Don Fernando | Ryan Quinn
Dona Leonor/Leonardo, his sister | Natascia Diaz
Ribete, her servant | Carson Elrod
Don Juan | Alfredo Narciso
Tomillo, his servant | Luis Quintero
Estela, Countess of Sora | Helen Cespedes
Lisarda, her cousin | Sam Morales
Ludovico, Prince of Pinoy | Matthew Saldivar
Rufino | Flora | Anita Castillo-Halvorssen
Tibaldo/Fineo |/Stage Directions | Anthony Michael Martinez
Director | Melia Bensussen
Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein
Zoom Coordinator | Betsy Ayer
OBS Coordinator | Jessica Fornear
OBS Consultant | Jenna Worden
Drama League Directing Fellow | Emma Rosa Went
Presented in association with Diversifying the Classics | UCLA, this event marked the New York premiere of a brand new English-language translation by that initiative’s working group The Comedia in Translation and Performance.
The Golden Age of Spain offers one of the most vibrant theatrical repertoires ever produced. At the same time that England saw the flourishing of Shakespeare on the Elizabethan stage, Spain produced prodigious talents such as Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderón de la Barca. Diversifying the Classics brings these plays to the public by offering English versions of Hispanic classical theater. These translations are designed to make this rich tradition accessible to students, teachers, and theater professionals.
The UCLA Comedia in Translation and Performance working group responsible for the translation includes Marta Albalá Pelegrín, Adrián Collado, Carla Della Gatta, Paul Fitzgibbon Cella, Barbara Fuchs, Rafael Jaime, Robin Kello, Javier Patiño Loira, Jennifer L. Mont, Laura Muñoz, Payton Phillips Quintanilla, Kathryn Renton, Rhonda Sharrah, Cheché Silveyra, Aina Soley, Veronica Toro, and Elizabeth Warren.
Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.
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”
The play opens with Estela, a countess, and her cousin Lisarda descending a mountain during a storm. Having wandered off from their hunting party, they find themselves alone when they are set upon by a group of bandits. Fortuitously, Don Juan and his servant Tomillo, who are traveling from Seville, happen upon them and manage to fend off the bandits. Once Estela and Lisarda are reunited with Don Fernando de Ribera and Prince Ludovico, both of whom long for Estela’s love, Juan is invited to join the group at the court in Brussels. Before departing with them, he lingers behind to tell Fernando how he came to be in Flanders. He reveals that he had fallen in love with a lady in Seville and courted her successfully with pledges of marriage, only to grow tired of her and leave her.
As Fernando and Juan depart, Leonor—the very woman Juan had abandoned, and Fernando’s sister—enters the stage, dressed as a man and accompanied by her servant and confidant, Ribete. (He and Tomillo both serve as the play’s graciosos, comedic servants who offer witty insights and criticism.) Leonor describes how she decided to follow Juan to Flanders to restore her lost honor—an adventure she could only accomplish in male guise. She encounters Fernando, who fails to recognize his sister, and convinces him that she is actually his cousin, Leonardo. Fernando invites her, too, to stay in Brussels, enabling her plan for revenge, which will require outwitting everyone.
Act II opens in Brussels, with Estela confiding in Lisarda about her love life. While both Juan and Ludovico court her, she cares for neither; instead, she has fallen in love with the newcomer, Leonardo. Leonor, as “Leonardo,” has set out to seduce Estela to thwart Juan’s new attempted conquest and to force him to publicly confess his wrongdoing. Once he confesses, Leonor, still in disguise, plans to force him into a duel and restore her honor through the death of her one-time lover.
Estela plans to meet Leonardo that night on the palace grounds. Leonor-as-Leonardo informs Ludovico of the meeting and offers to give up Estela, if only he will impersonate Leonardo that night and convince Estela that she should love Ludovico instead. Leonor, using Ribete as an intermediary, then convinces Juan that Estela wants to meet him that night at her balcony. As Juan attempts to go to Estela, however, Leonor sets upon him, using the cover of darkness to hide the identity of her male persona. She accuses him of dishonorable conduct and challenges him to a duel, at least in part to waylay him long enough to prevent him from interrupting Ludovico’s meeting with Estela. Leonor leaves a confused Juan to disguise herself as Estela and meet him at Estela’s balcony. There she rejects him, and proceeds to criticize his behavior in Seville in such detail that he is left astonished and feels forced to review his old feelings for Leonor. At the same time, he is convinced that someone has betrayed his confidence by revealing so much to Estela. Meanwhile, Ludovico-as-Leonardo is unable to convince Estela of Ludovico’s appeal.
Act III begins with Juan accusing Fernando of telling Estela what had happened in Seville. Fernando rightly denies the accusation, but Juan proceeds to ask Estela herself about the identity of the informant. As no one had, in fact, told her anything, Juan’s interrogation effectively serves as a confession of the entire affair. Upon hearing this, Estela rejects him for his treatment of Leonor back in Seville. Juan then approaches Leonor-as-Leonardo and asks her to give up her pursuit of Estela. Leonor, still as Leonardo, replies that she is actually in love with Leonor and has come to Brussels to defend not just Leonor’s honor but also the dignity of love and women in general. This prompts Juan to sudden and unexpected jealousy, and a declaration that it was he who betrayed Leonor. Fernando enters and interrupts their argument, lamenting his feelings for Estela. Meanwhile, Flora—Estela’s servant and the play’s trickster— drugs Tomillo with a chocolate drink, rifles through his belongings, and steals his money. Juan, still madly jealous, returns to challenge Leonardo to a duel. Fernando discovers them with their swords drawn and prompts Juan to confess that he had dishonored a lady in Seville and that the lady was Fernando’s sister. Leonor-as-Leonardo pushes the argument to the point that Juan declares his renewed love for Leonor. She leaves and returns dressed as a lady, explaining her actions throughout the play. Repentant and humbled by Leonor’s masterful execution of her plan, Juan promises to truly marry her this time. The abandoned Estela forgives Leonor and, calling her “sister,” proposes to Fernando. Ludovico proposes to Lisarda. Estela matches Flora with Ribete. Tomillo remains alone and penniless.
–Marta Albalá Pelegrín and Rafael Jaime