Enjoy Bawdy Cervantes Playlets at Warehouse

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Enjoy Bawdy Cervantes Playlets at Warehouse


Byline: T.L. Ponick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sealed off from traffic by potholes pockmarking the streets adjacent to the nearly completed Washington Convention Center, the Warehouse Theater is an interesting, bohemian place to attend a show.

But you have to find it first. If, after picking your way through heaps of construction detritus, you reach this black box venue, you'll discover that the delightful GALA Hispanic Theatre is staging an entertaining selection of rarely seen bawdy playlets by the great Spanish literary master Miguel de Cervantes.

Many Americans think of Cervantes as the originator of the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha," which he was, sort of. Except that what he actually penned was a picaresque tome of interlocking adventures entitled "Don Quixote" (1602) - arguably the world's first novel.

Soldier, adventurer, author, Cervantes led a full and eventful life that informed his writings, which also included poetry and plays - up to 30 of the latter, according to the writer himself. Of these, only a couple survive.

During the staging of a full-length play in Cervantes' time, it was customary to fill intermissions with short entertainments while the sets were being changed. These were called interludes, or "entremeses" in Spanish. They might be short musical sets or verses, but they soon developed into little one-act comic plays specifically aimed at finding favor with the restless lower element in the audience.

Initially, characters were stock commedia dell'arte types, but Cervantes and others took them further, adding easily identifiable street characters and peasants, dirty old men, adulterous wives, dishonest professionals, professional swindlers, and, of course, eternally good-humored prostitutes and drunkards. Unquestionably, some of these entertainments risked trouble with the censors of the time either for their low moral tone or for unacceptable elements of political or religious satire.

The plots of these interludes are a lot like sitcoms - a little improbable but driven by the always-humorous personal defects of each character. After having a great deal of fun at the expense of most of its stock characters, each interlude in this production dissolves into a musical number as the actors disappear into the wings, just as they would have done in Cervantes' time, before the next act's curtain rises.

The GALA ensemble, under the spirited direction of Hugo Medrano, presented four of these interludes during Sunday's performances: "El rufian viudo llamado Trampagos" ("The Widowed Pimp"), "El viejo celoso" ("The Jealous Old Man"), "El juez de los divorcios" ("The Divorce Judge"), and "La cueva de Salamanca" ("The Cave in Salamanca").

Like plays within a play, the interludes have been surrounded with snippets excerpted from one of Cervantes' actual full-length dramas. Each was introduced and escorted off by a lively troupe of musicians and singers performing numbers composed for this production by Carlos Rodriguez.

GALA's evening of interludes is not immortal theater, but it's an enjoyable night out, nonetheless. …

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