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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Courage To Right A Woman's Wrongs
Red Bull Theater   November 2020

A comedy-drama by a little-known writer from the Spanish Golden Age proves very adaptable to the new art form of Zoom Theatre, in this production by New York's Red Bull Theater.

Valor, Agravio y Mujer, by Ana Caro de Malln (1590-1546) mixes high drama with broad comedy, as characters are likely to speak of and be sincerely moved by Honour, Loyalty and True Love one moment and make fools of themselves the next. And because the play is built largely on soliloquies and longer speeches, putting the actors in separate windows onscreen doesn't seriously hurt the sense of reality or drama.

In a cast full of Spanish nobles, Don Juan woos Estella, who is also being courted by two other men. But Don Juan previously seduced and abandoned Leonora, who has followed him disguised as a man, Leonato.

Inevitably, Estella falls for Leonato, Leonora finds herself fighting a duel of honour with Don Juan, and at one point there are two separate secret assignations going on simultaneously in the dark, with one person in each pair thinking he or she is making love to someone other than they are.

It all comes out all right in the end, with either honour (Don Juan and Leonora), true love (Estella and one of her swains) or convenience (a couple of left-over characters noticing each other at the last moment) conquering all.

All this, and a few subplots, is accomplished by ten actors each sitting in their own homes in cities across America, talking to their computers. The device works, with some clever manipulation of the size and position of the windows helping to show who's dominant in a scene, who's eavesdropping, and who's entering or leaving. The only technical glitches are with the sound balance, some actors coming through much louder or softer than others.

The acting levels are also uneven, not in quality but in styles. While some in the cast adopt a rather formal and classical mode, others try to be more animated and natural, while still others choose a very modern and colloquial sound. Director Melia Bensussen, while doing an admirable job of directing traffic, hasn't brought everybody into the same reality.

What must be the frustration of performing in a vacuum while sitting in front of a camera leads almost everyone to a bit (or more) of facial and vocal overacting in external and signifying ways.

The most successful in avoiding temptation, though not always operating in the same performance style as each other, are Natascia Diaz as Leonora, Alfredo Narciso as Juan and Ryan Quinn as the guy who eventually gets Estrella.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Courage To Right A Woman's Wrongs - Red Bull Theater 2020