Although playwright Lope de Vega (1562-1635) wrote as many as 1,800 plays and several hundred shorter dramatic pieces (of which nearly 500 survive), he's not well-known to American audiences. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega established a dramatic tradition using characteristically Spanish themes, values and subject matter and was the most prolific playwright of Spain's Golden Age.
Now the Shakespeare Ensemble has produced an original adaptation of Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna ("The Well of Sheep"), a play depicting the struggle by the town of Fuenteovejuna against a ruthless and unethical feudal lord, which opens Thursday, Nov. 13.
Directed by Assistant Professor Brenda Cotto-Escalera, Ensemble members created a collaborative adaptation of the drama, making the language more accessible, streamlining the plot and consolidating characters.
"We liked the story but didn't think much of any of the English translations," said dramaturg Kevin Dahm, a graduate student in chemical engineering. According to Mr. Dahm, who is playing Fuenteovejuna's mayor, the Ensemble read the English translation while Professor Cotto-Escalera followed the original Spanish text. They discussed what information, action and characters were pertinent and then improvised and polished their way to a written script.
Although set in a Spanish feudal town, the Ensemble's version is not set in any particular year, instead aiming for the feel of "a long time ago in a little town called Fuenteovejuna."
"We're not doing a strict period piece," said Professor Cotto-Escalera, noting that the company welcomed some historic anachronism while incorporating authentic elements of Golden Age theater productions. "Our show will emulate the environment of the Corrales, the courtyard theaters that were popular during the time," she said, explaining that the Ensemble will create a pre-show fiesta where vendors, musicians, dancers, jugglers, clowns and actors mingle with the audience to bring them into the play, telling the story from within the festival celebration.
Where Golden Age audiences were very vocal and threw fruit at actors they didn't like, MIT audiences will be given noisemakers to evoke the era's participatory atmosphere during the performance.
"There was an open relationship between the actors and the audience then which is largely lost in modern theater," said Fernando Paiz, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science who's playing the ruthless ruler. "We hope that by inviting the audience to a party they'll feel free to participate and interact."
The Tale of Fuenteovejuna plays Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 20-22, beginning with the fiesta at 7:30pm and an 8pm curtain in Kresge Little Theater. Tickets are $8, or $6 for senior citizens, MIT and Wellesley students. Group rates are available. For information and reservations, call x3-2903 or e-mail
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 12, 1997.