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A CurtainUp Review
The Controversy of Valladolid
By Elyse Sommer
Mr. Carrière's play fits into the season's penchant for legal dramas. Like Sin (review), Controversy does not have a regular courtroom setting but takes place in a sepulchral chamber of the Monastery of San Gregorio with the Pope's Legate (Josef Sommer) acting as judge and jury. The defendant of the conquered Mexican natives' right to be free and treated as humans is Las Casas, who is appalled by Western brutality that he has witnessed first-hand as a priest in the colonies. To make a case for the natives being heathens and lesser humans who should be enslaved by their Christian conquerors (and superiors), is Sepulveda is an Ivory tower style scholar who wants to apply Aristotelian principles that would treat the natives as inferior heathens destined to be enslaved by their Christian conquerors and moral superiors.
David Jones has taken advantage of the large Anspacher Theater stage to give the drama the required solemnity and grandeur and to infuse the reenactment of the historical controversy with rich ritual detail. Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova's tall brick columned set, atmospherically lit by Mark McCullough, evokes the monasterial setting and Ilona Somogyi has outfitted the able cast in lush period costumes.
All the atmosphere in the world and the best efforts on the part of the actors (especially Sommer as the stick to the issue presiding Legate), however, can't prevent this from being weighed down by lengthy monologues, to be more drama than lecture. Thus, even the most compelling speeches (e.g.-- De Casa's account of the horrific abuses in the new world) eventually succumb to dramatic stasis.
The playwright offsets the lecture elements by introducing "witnesses" -- a frightened family of Indians (Monica Salazar, Ron Morina as the couple and Jeremy Michael Kuszel as their child) who have been sent for by the Legate to test the opposing views as to whether they are savages or human beings entitled to be free and fairly treated. There's also a colonist (Graham Winston) to represent Spain's political interests in slavery, a clown (William Huntley III) to test the Indians' ability to laugh like "normal" people, and a giant inanimate creature, a symbol of heathen worship. While some people might respond to the absurdism of these more animated scenes, they struck me as forced and not especially funny, though fight director B. H. Barry does deserve a hand for his expert supervision of a fight staged by the Legate between the Colonist and the hapless Indians.
Some of the more obvious ironic allusions do hit home (i.e. Sepulveda's "It's well known that the Muslims, having spread their evil over a vast empire for centuries, are now weakened. Every indication is that their end is near."). And Carrière does manage to top the Legate's final judgment on the fate of the indians with a surprise twist that enables the Church to maintain its long-standing marriage with the State. Unfortunately, the most controversial aspect of The Controversy of Valladolid is whether its all too familiar arguments are debate-worthy and entertaining enough to keep viewers from looking at their watches long before this lengthy debate comes to its intermissionless end.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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