“When a fool falls in love, nothing can change his mind.” Anyone who has been or known anyone in love can verify just how accurate those words are. On that note, the UCSB Department of Theatre and Dance continued the Valentine’s Day spirit with the opening of Lope de Vega’s romantic tragicomedy, “The Knight from Olmedo,” Friday night. This fast-paced Baroque play filled with love, comedy, jealousy and – ultimately – tragedy delights the audience while first handily displaying the harmful side effects of young love. This play tells the story of Don Alonso, the knight from Olmedo, and the turbulent love affair with the object of his desire, Dona Ines. Just like every story of true love, ironic trifles and external complications initially keep these lovers apart. The poetic dialogue intertwines puns, sexual innuendoes and nature metaphors that remind the audience of the romantic time period of dashing knights and damsels in distress.
The play begins with a love struck man, Alonso (Matthew Horn) convincing an old hag, Fabia (Michaun Elizabeth Barner) to help him win a doe-eyed maiden, Ines (Leigh Dunham). While Alonso rambles on about how his love is a matter of life and death, just like any other fool in love, Fabia and Alonso’s manservant Tello (Michael Ruesga) steal the spotlight with their witty one-liners and excellent comedic timing. Barner and Ruesga both delight and exude a dominant presence on stage, satisfying the ever-pressing need for supporting characters that provide both comic relief and a reality check for the love birds that every love story requires. Throughout the show, no matter which scene these characters are in, they certainly stay center stage. Also, in true knightly fashion, Alonso is able to command the lyrical dialogue without putting the audience in a coma, justifies why he deserves to be called the knight from Olmedo.
As the play continues, obstacles arise that separate Alonso and Ines, the most meddlesome of which takes the form of a wily and jealous rival suitor named Don Rodrigo (Samuel Majeroviz). An ironic twist of fate complicates the love triangle between Alonso, Ines and Rodrigo that ultimately leads to the each character’s reliance on some very entertaining plots and scheming. While the storyline is captivating, the chemistry between Horn and Dunham was just not apparent. From their awkward physical encounters and an unemotional performance by Dunham, it was hard to believe that these two characters were even in love. The play continues to take a somber turn in the second half, complete with the supernatural appearance of a masked stranger on Friday the thirteenth.
Overall, Leo Cabranes-Grant successfully captures the atmosphere of a Spanish corral, a performance space in Spain, with the same simplistic setting that is used for both indoor and outdoor scenes. The audience is forced to use their imagination to create the physical surroundings of the characters, hopefully causing them to feel like they are watching the play in this old Spanish style. While the setting creates the corral arena experience, the costumes followed a different thread, so to speak. The dialogue and the setting stayed true to the time period while the costumes consisted of 1930’s Spanish dress. This anachronism enhanced the anticlimactic feeling of the story, so much so that the hero seemed too cliché in a leather jacket and beret. With a dramatic story like this, the costumes have the ability to be extravagant and luscious as opposed to neutral colored dresses and grey pant suits. Cabranes-Grant’s intention behind this modern dress was to bring the dialogue to the “contemporary eye.” Instead, this idea falls flat and simply insults the audience’s comprehension of chronology.
In the end, The “Knight from Olmedo” is a show worth seeing. The scintillating plotline mixed with a musical prologue and epilogue written by the cast and director entwine gracefully to deliver an engaging piece. These dramatic components mix with an unbelievably hilarious interlude of ironic desires create the perfect side dish to the ensemble’s satisfying performance.