INTAR, the venerable theater company known for producing “Latino Voices in English,” is presenting its first installment of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s eight Entremeses (one-act short plays) in a brief run through June 28. Co-produced by the Consulate General of Spain, the troupe’s initial foray into these comedic works by the author of Don Quixote comprises two high-spirited, culturally multicolored romps.
Music and dancing enliven both of these send-ups of the local ruling classes. The town council of Electing the Judges of Daganzo (La Elecciónde los Alcaldes de Daganzo) meets to choose a new judge from four comical candidates, each less qualified than the next. The officials break off their deliberations upon the arrival of a band of gypsies.
Itinerant entertainers bring to another town The Magical Puppet Show (El Retablo de las Maravillas) which, they claim, can’t be seen by foreigners or those born illegitimately. Only the Governor (Martina Potratz) admits, in asides, that he doesn’t see the conjured Biblical apparitions – that the emperor has no clothes. This bacchanal too is interrupted, this time by the quartermaster of a troop of soldiers demanding the town provide housing for his men.
In both mini-comedies, the raucous and in some ways unpolished production magnifies an atmosphere of bemused chaos. It’s possible to imagine something of what the original audiences experienced. Cervantes was writing about a Spain that was a stewpot of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, not to mention Gypsies (whom we now call Roma). Even in comedic form it wasn’t always peaceful or benevolent – one of Cervantes’s town councillors accuses another of being a “Christ-killer” – but it was culturally fertile.
Both plays show how comedic writers were free to satirize officialdom and the gentry. The Magical Puppet Show in particular illustrates and even comments directly on the place of the writer in society. I don’t know how true these new translations are to the originals, and thus I can’t say for sure how skillful they are. An apparently non-satirical use of the non-word “conversate” was a little disturbing. But the stylized, cartoonish exaggeration is obviously intended, and definitive. The casting of artificially bearded women in male roles only heightens the tone.
Director Rebecca Martínez does a good job managing the large cast and the broad physical comedy in a small space, and several cast members display multiple talents. Stefan Martin’s costumes and Joaquin Lopez’s music add luminous color. The production brings us works from a distant time and place, works most of us have never seen though they’re by one of history’s most famous writers. The Entremeses were written as comedic interludes between acts of a longer, drama production, and presenting them to a new, English-speaking audience is a serious purpose. Thankfully INTAR isn’t taking itself too seriously here. As a result, we can be entertained and learn something at the same time.
INTAR will present six more Entremeses over its next two seasons. The current production runs through June 28.