The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs (Valor, agravio y mujer)

Ana Caro
Red Bull Theater
Red Bull Theater, New York

The cast of ‘The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs.’ Top row, from left to right: Anita Castillo-Halvorssen, Helen Cespedes, Natascia Diaz, Carson Elrod, Anthony Michael Martinez. Bottom row from left to right: Sam Morales, Alfredo Narciso, Ryan Quinn, Luis Quintero, Matthew Saldivar Credit: Red Bull Theatre

Yet again, New York’s Red Bull Theater has come up with a forgotten theatrical gem, in this case from the Spanish Golden Age.

British theatregoers are only likely to have heard of two playwrights from what must have been a wonderful canon: Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca. It might therefore, be a surprise to learn that early 17th century Spain also nurtured female playwrights including Ana Caro, who has written this witty comedy of love and manners.

Director Melia Bensussen has clearly worked hard with her actors to ensure that their performances via Zoom make this considerably more than merely a play reading. They embody their characters and give them life throughout the running time of around two hours. The play has been translated by a team from Diversifying the Classics / UCLA into slangy modern American English, is characteristic of the period and is great fun.

Before the action starts in Brussels, the back-story takes us to Madrid and tells of Alfredo Narciso’s Don Juan, a scoundrel who lives up to that famous name, having wronged Leonor, played by Natascia Diaz. He may be a lady’s man but Don Juan can also be both brave and noble, as he demonstrates by rescuing Estela, Countess of Sora and her cousin Lisarda, respectively portrayed by Helen Cesperedes and Sam Morales, from a pair of brigands. Flirty Estela is smitten, much to the disappointment of the region’s Prince, who has his own designs on her.

What might have been only mildly complicated is thrown into much greater chaos and confusion through the efforts of a couple of comic servants plus a helpful nobleman, Ryan Quinn as another Estela admirer, Don Fernando. He helps new arrival Leonardo (it was inevitable that there would have to be somebody cross-dressing and it happens to be Leonor). He / she has taken to the road in disguise seeking vengeance on the man who is responsible for her ruin, unrecognised by her target but also, even more incongruously, her brother.

From there onwards, the comedy follows misguided love and desire, particularly when Estela falls for Leonardo, laced with multiple subterfuge, guilt and the makings of what might have been a juicy revenge tragedy.

A satisfying plot with plenty of delightful twists and turns contains much rich wit and, thanks to the efforts of director and cast, grips the attention, while making some perceptive observations about human foibles along the way.

Yet again, Jesse Berger’s Red Bull has unearthed and staged a wonderful piece of theatre and one hopes that before too long the company might be able to present this fine play on stage to a live audience.

Fans of the company might like to know that A King and No King by Beaumont and Fletcher is next on the agenda, due to be broadcast on 14 December.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher