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THEATER REVIEW Fuente Ovejuna
by Ada Cheng
2019-01-29

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Playwright: Lope de Vega. Adapted and Directed: Terry McCabe

City Lit Theater: 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: CityLit.org; $12-$32. Run through: Feb. 17

Fuente Ovejuna is an original play written by Lope de Vega, a playwright and a novelist during the Spanish Golden Age of Baroque literature. Adapted and directed by Terry McCabe and produced by City Lit Theater Company, Fuente Ovejuna is the theater's response to a central social concern of our time: the #MeToo movement.

First produced 400 years ago, this play, within the original context in Spain, is about Laurencia, a young woman's rebellion and her call to collective resistance against a military governor's sexual exploitation of local women.

The question is: How does an adaptation take into consideration the contemporary politics of #MeToo movement in its complexity?

The #MeToo movement is never simply about female resistance. This movement also heightens the necessity to address women's different experiences in sexual violence within the particular racial and class dynamics in the United States.

In other words, the questions we need to ask are: Which group of women tend to be seen as "innocent' and "deserving" victims, thus more believable in the public discourse? Which group of men tend to be regarded as perpetuators, consistent with the sexualized stereotypes about them? These questions are not simply about gender; they are about race and class.

It is in light of these contemporary complexities that the production of Fuente Ovejuna seems to miss the mark. For example, while the cast appears to be diverse to a certain extent, a Black man is cast as the exploiter and the oppressor, the main villain responsible for sexual dominance of local women. Yet the casting of a Black man in this role—albeit a leading role—easily feeds into the historical white fear about Black men as a group and the imaginary hysteria toward their presumed violent masculinity and predatory sexuality. It is utterly difficult to dismiss this racial undertone in this production.

I truly believe that the director and the theater have good intentions to use this play as a critical response to our current social concerns. Yet one wonders: Why this play? Is this play the best option as a critical commentary of our time? Aren't there better feminist plays in existence that can better address these intersectional dynamics?

The script, with its literal translation, loses the original poeticism. Its production falls short of the depth necessary for the critical conversations surrounding #MeToo movement. While actors are all engaging and dynamic, this production misses an important opportunity to critically and thoughtfully address central issues of our time through theater.


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