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Reviewed by:
  • Reinar después de morir by Luis Vélez de Guevara
  • Esther Fernández
REINAR DESPUÉS DE MORIR. By Luis Vélez de Guevara. Directed by Ignacio García and Pepa Pedroche. Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico/Companhia Teatro de Almada, Teatro de la Comedia, Madrid. January 10, 2020.

Reference to a corpse queen triggers a call-back to Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated black comedy Corpse Bride (2005). Rather than revisiting the tale of Emily and her incorporeal consort, we may draw into focus a lesser known figure in the pantheon of the macabre, Inés de Castro (1325–55), whose historical execution has taken on a life of its own as a Portuguese legend that continues to resonate today. Prince Pedro of Portugal’s lover, Inés de Castro, was murdered by order of King Alonso, Pedro’s father, in the interest of safeguarding the state. As legend has it, upon assuming the throne in 1357, Don Pedro nevertheless declared Inés the queen of Portugal, exhumed her body, and forced his courtiers to swear allegiance to the corpse queen.

Our penchant for the intricacies of forbidden love and the macabre have given this legend a rich afterlife on the stage since the eighteenth century. Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli’s and Giuseppe Persiani’s operas of 1798 and 1835, respectively, or plays such as Henry de Montherlant’s La reine morte (The dead queen, 1942) and Alejandro Casona’s Corona de amor y muerte (Crown of love and death, 1955) are proof of the story’s enduring popularity. However, Spanish playwright Luis Vélez de Guevara (1579–1644) first dramatized this tragedy in Reinar después de morir (To reign after death, c. 1635). Reinar después de morir clings to the elements that characterize the dramatic style of Vélez de Guevara. It is historically grounded; it has macabre elements; and its metaphors distil a complex, fantastic imaginary. Yet, Reinar, which is considered the most Portuguese of the Spanish early modern plays, also synthesizes Iberian culture. Many Spanish dramatic works of the time used Portuguese characters and themes (and vice versa), creating a rich cultural fluidity between the two countries. The Portuguese melancholic feeling of the saudade, which becomes concretized in the very geography of the play, is best captured in Reinar. If defining Portugalidade (being Portuguese) on the page is already difficult due to the slippery nature of the concept, capturing its meaning onstage and giving it a palpable form presents its own set of problems in our modern times. Nevertheless, the production directed by Ignacio García and Pepa Pedroche managed to deploy Portugalidade in all its grandeur and pathos.

This culturally diverse and intricate background was exquisitely emphasized in the binational co-production between the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico and the Companhia Teatro de Almada that also premiered a few days earlier in Portugal, translated into Portuguese by Nuno Júdice and performed by Portuguese actors. From their seats, audience members were immersed in a multisensory experience where the romanticized Portugalidade became a social and poetic microcosm, functioning in the play as a Portuguese version of the Forest of Arden. Capitalizing on this theme, set designer José Manuel Castanheira, inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s Ascent into the Empyrean (c.1480) and the dome of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Lisbon, designed a concave stage that allowed actors to slide between positions on set, mimicking the ease with which characters slide between the conflicting feelings of passion and duty—without realizing that they are trapped in a centrifugal tunnel. The constant pendular movement of the actors imbued the performance with Sisyphean fatigue, as the slow pace of saudade crept into the topsy-turvy world. [End Page 97]

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Nurse (María José Alfonso), Blanca de Navarra (Manuela Velasco), and Inés de Castro (Lara Grube) (l-r) in Reinar después de morir. (Photo: Sergio Parra, courtesy of Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico.)

[End Page 98]

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Blanca de Navarra (Manuela Velasco), King Alonso (Chema de Miguel), Don Pedro (David...


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