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Theatre Journal 53.2 (2001) 334-335

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Performance Review

El Secreto de la Torre de Don Fadrique

El Secreto de la Torre de Don Fadrique.By Ramón Bocanegra. Compañía de Espectáculos La Tarasca, The Tower of Don Fadrique, Seville. 8 September 2000.

IMAGE LINK= Rather than just another son et lumière show, La Tarasca's site-specific production was a magical excursion into the middle ages. While waiting outside the main gate of the convent enclosing the entitled tower, the first mysterious glimpse recalled a medieval environment. Huge ghostly horses with death's heads appeared through the archway ridden by white masked figures--actors on stilts around whom the horse frame, draped with muslin gauze, was built. Adorned with little bells, the horses stomped restlessly while the riders controlled the inflow of spectators by raising and lowering their lances.

The spectators, dressed in hooded penitential robes and cowed by these images of the Final Authority, surrounded a stage platform set in the sunken center of the courtyard where the tower loomed at one end. The platform, covered in sheet metal and cast in blue light, looked like a shimmering pool. Projected on the tower wall were medieval occult diagrams with Satan in the center. Steeped in the mystery and ignorance of that age, one felt the power of darkness. The tinkling bells, the more sinister pounding of recorded music, and La Zanfoña movil, the roving band of medieval musicians on tabors and flutes, also conspired with the imagination.

The guides unmasked and disrobed to become personalities in a thirteenth-century power struggle when Spanish feudal lords fought for supremacy. The Tower's legend suggests it was the "love nest" for Don Fadrique and his widowed stepmother, Juana de Ponthieu, the young second wife of Fernando III, but La Tarasca decided not to exploit the love story and made it secondary to the conflict between Don Fadrique and his older brother King Alfonso X, "El Sabio." Alfonso the Wise's reputation was built on his scholarship, but based on an unpublished historical novel of Pedro Mora, the play revealed him as a psychologically weak pawn of the Church.

From their childhood, the two brothers were rivals, and Fadrique, although always professing his loyalty to his brother, returned from wars abroad a hero, his popularity secretly disturbing to the king. Moreover, he was a scholar who wrote on astrology and astronomy. Believing life on earth to be the microcosm of the universe, Fadrique built a fantastic tower as a place to study the heavens and privately conduct his research.

The audience was herded into a small square area, covered in sand marked with magic triangles and squares, on the opposite side of the tower. Here Fadrique, backlit by a light inside the tower, burnt incense in an urn and performed rituals, attempting to understand the invisible world behind the visible one. Accosted by the Archbishop, he was told not to defy God's will by seeking knowledge beyond what the Church has deemed suitable for human intelligence. The men chased and charged each other in the tiny space, but their clichéd debate between religion and science was overwhelmed by their intensity and the spontaneity they brought to the conflict. The argument ended in a sweeping gesture by the Archbishop who, suddenly overturning the urn, cast burning ashes at the feet of startled spectators.

In a powerful scene back on the courtyard platform, the Archbishop presented proof that Fadrique intended to overthrow the king by occult means, and confidently sat on the throne. The hurt and confused Alfonso rocked back and forth, weakly shook his head, and sank to his knees. Alfonso's condemnation of his brother was clearly motivated by outraged impotence. His pathetic capitulation to the Archbishop's manipulation and his own jealousy not only revealed the Church's abusive interference, but also challenged the inherited conceptions of Spanish history. When Fadrique was executed by hooded figures, their shadows were projected against the tower wall where an even larger image of a mutilated man covered its entire height...


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