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Reviewed by:
  • La Dama Boba by Lope de Vega
  • Barbara Fuchs
LA DAMA BOBA (in Spanish, no subtitles). By Lope de Vega. Adapted and directed by Leyma López. Repertorio Español, New York City. Streaming on demand from May 6, 2021.

After over a year of watching theatre on Zoom, I thought I had cataloged most of its vagaries. Yet, Repertorio Español’s La dama boba (Lope de Vega’s 1613 play, variously translated as The Lady Nitwit, The Lady Simpleton, or Mad for Love), makes very interesting use not just of Zoom itself, but of the contrast between Zoom and in-theatre performance, creating a new form of intermediality to contrast artifice and simplicity. Although the piece was recorded and has not yet been presented before a live audience, it is both formally intriguing and, as a free streaming-on-demand offering, generously accessible to Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States and beyond. La dama boba thus represents a positive development of the Zoom era: theatre widely available to an audience unable to attend on-site performances at a specific time and in Repertorio’s 27th Street theatre in Manhattan. While we are all eager to return to theatres, many companies have recognized the wisdom of keeping a version of their work online, for those who may value access over liveness.

Lope’s play tells the story of two sisters: the learned Nise (Soraya Padrao), and the uncouth Finea (Zulema Clares). Both have difficulty meeting society’s expectations for women in early seventeenth-century Spain: Nise’s wit and learning make her well-aware of women’s predicament in marriage and the concomitant loss of agency, while Finea’s combination of innocence and obliviousness exposes her to predation—and the ire of her exasperated tutor (Gerardo Gudiño). Two suitors, the dashing though impoverished Laurencio (Luis Carlos de la Lombana) and the wealthy Liseo (Sandor Juan), court the sisters. Although Laurencio initially seems to love Nise, who returns his affection, he abandons her for Finea, who has inherited money from an uncle.

Nise remains largely poised and cerebral throughout the play, although she must navigate her betrayal by both her beloved and her sister. Meanwhile, Finea undergoes a profound transformation—a fall into eros that also seems to afford her full person-hood—as she discovers love through Laurencio’s attentions. Among other things, Finea learns guile, adding a metatheatrical dimension to the play. Like Hamlet, she will “put an antic disposition on,” performing the simplicity that characterized her earlier in order to achieve marriage to Laurencio and evade the match with Liseo that her father has arranged. Given this metatheatrical flourish, Finea’s triumph is also the triumph of acting, at the expense of Nise’s directness and constancy.

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Zulema Clares (Finea) and Luis Carlos de La Lombana (Laurencio) in La dama boba. (Photo: Tané Martínez.)

Faced with uncertain prospects for production in a time of COVID, López decided to limit in-person sessions filmed in Repertorio’s theatre to scenes of intense action, bodily contact, or such. Most of the production was filmed on the virtual space of Zoom, with the transitions between the two modes beautifully edited by Tané Martínez. When Nise [End Page 553] throws papers in the air in her Zoom box, they land on the actors in the theatre; a fight between the sisters, occurring onstage, is broken up when they both pop up, tousled and out of breath, on Zoom. The actors wear basic black on Zoom and full historical costume in the theatre. On Zoom, they look straight ahead and never attempt to simulate eye contact. In a play full of metatheatrical moments, the transitions between Zoom and the theatre thus constantly foreground the constructedness of performance. Although Repertorio is not known for cutting-edge formal experimentation, the happen-stance of COVID restrictions has led in this case to a richly self-conscious production, whose form matches its knowing content.

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Zulema Clares (Finea) and Gerardo Gudiño (Miseno) in La dama boba. (Photo: Tané Martínez.)

Zoom minimizes the differences between...


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pp. 553-555
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