BWW Review: THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE colonizes the Alley at Mildred's Umbrella
THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE portrays a real historic crisis of power in Spain circa 1504 when Joanna of Castile ascended to the throne after a series of bizarre unexpected deaths. Where it all goes wacky is that in this play author Charise Castro Smith has injected a mysterious hunchback orphan sister to the current monarch Queen Isabella and a whole slew of modern notions and mores to make Spain uncomfortably close to the modern day United States. We are faced with a woke arc spine woman taking on the old fashioned ideas of colonialism, fundamentalism, and succession of power without thought of suitability to rule. Basically here in America, any given Tuesday.
This piece feels like a wonderful arts organization mash-up thanks to the fact we have Mildred's Umbrella producing a show directed by Classical Theatre Company's main man Philip Hays in the basement of the Alley. Mildred's and Classical have been rendered homeless by the announcement the Chelsea Market would become a sixteen story luxury apartment complex. So off we go kiddos to Mildred's Umbrella returning to their wandering vagabond roots doing pop-up theater where they can. No worries though, because THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE plays just as well in the Alley's Neuhaus space as it would have anywhere else.
The script spins out a fast funny farce that reminds me of a politically informed Monty Python skit. Even though the premise sounds like a stuffy costume drama, this is more SOUTH PARK meets 1500s Spain. Thankfully at the top of the food chain is one of Mildred's founding member actress Patricia Duran who plays the titular hunchback Maxima Terrible Segunda. She's a bald bookish orphan who was adopted by the royal family as a baby in a basket to prove they were good Christians. She has an affinity for maps, cats, bathrooms, and Moors. Duran plays her for all she's worth - smart, sarcastic, and sassy. She's wonderfully sympathetic when she need be and sharply comedic often within the same scene.
Surrounding our lead is a crackerjack team of comedians taking on character roles that will make audiences squeal and giggle. Elizabeth Black is Queen Isabella -haughty and ailing throughout. Black knows how to do comedy, and she brings the goods as usual to her dying monarch. Elizabeth A.M. Keel masters the farcical art of door opening as the equally hysterical Espanta. Samantha Jaramillo offers a sweet natured counterpart as the second hunchback in the play (two hunchbacks for the price of one!). Rhett Martinez, Dillon Dewitt, and Anthony August play lusty gutsy guys as Columbus and Moors wrapped up in the drama of Spain. Briana J. Resa gets to steal every scene she is in as the bratty and lethal Juanna. She's the play's MVP for taking things over the top at every turn and meeting the farce's pace head on like a pro. Plus, she scares me.
Philip Hays is the perfect dude to direct this one. He knows how to establish the right energy from the get-go, and keeps things moving right up until they need to take a breath. Jonathan Harvey and John Peeples do wonders with adapting the Neuhaus space for Mildred's. They recreate the feel of a smaller space and offer up a marvel of scenic design that made me forget the house was made for three quarter thrust. Costumes by Leah Smith are equally as impressive and add to the evening in great abundance. If I need a glittery hunchback I now know who to call.
THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE is Mildred's Umbrella at its best. The play is fun and entertaining, and at the same time has a lot to say about women and our modern world. The production team is top notch as are all of the actors. This is a playful chestnut that offers up hope even as a homeless theater company Mildred's Umbrella will remain vital and dazzling. Catch them in the basement of the Alley this time, and then seek them out wherever they pop up next.
The easiest way to buy tickets and know about where the company is up next is through their website at www.mildredsumbrella.com . THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE only plays through April 6th at The Alley Theatre's Neuhaus space in the basement.
Photo by Gentle Bear Photography