BWW Review: Milagro Theatre Unearths a Piece of Theatrical History in ASTUCIAS POR HEREDAR UN SOBRINA A UN TIO

BWW Review: Milagro Theatre Unearths a Piece of Theatrical History in ASTUCIAS POR HEREDAR UN SOBRINA A UN TIO

It's not often you get the chance to see a piece of theatre that hasn't been performed in almost 230 years.

ASTUCIAS POR HEREDAR UN SOBRINA A UN TIO was written in 1789 by Fermín de Reygadas, who was born in Spain and emigrated to Mexico. The play was banned in Mexico for its social commentary, namely it's satirization of the upper class. So it was taken to Alta California (now Santa Cruz), where it became the first Spanish play performed in colonial California. The script made its way into the private collection of the historian Hubert H. Bancroft, who donated that collection to found the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. There ASTUCIAS... remained until Pedro Garcia-Caro of the University of Oregon unearthed it and published the first critical edition in 2016. Now, Milagro is the first theatre to perform the work since the late 18th century. Talk about the weight of history!

The play is a comedy about a wealthy elderly man (Don Lucas) whose servants (Lucía and Crispín) will do anything to ensure they get a piece of that wealth when he dies. It's full of all of the schemes and trickery you can imagine, along with plenty of mishaps along the way. Here, director Robi Arce presents ASTUCIAS... as commedia dell'arte, which is an early form of comedic theatre that relies on archetypal characters (i.e., greedy old men, mischievous servants, and young lovers) and masks. The style works very well for the script, as do the masks, which Arce created.

Milagro has assembled an outstanding ensemble, a necessary ingredient for a show that relies on over-the-top physical comedy and, as such, requires a massive amount of energy. In particular, Veronika Nuñez is excellent as Lucia, the ringleader behind the all of the schemes, as is Enrique Andrade as Don Lucas's nephew Don Pedro, who hopes to ingratiate himself to his uncle so he can inherit the money and marry Doña Isabel. Bibiana Lorenzo Johnston (as Doña Isabel's mother, Doña Teresa) and Sara Fay Goldman (in several roles) also provide plenty of laughs thanks to their exaggerated physicality and expressions that seem to project through, around, and over the masks they wear.

ASTUCIAS... is performed in Spanish with English supertitles. I normally don't find that having to read supertitles interferes too much, but in this case, they were often so long and complex (no doubt owing to the poetic language of the original) that it was difficult to keep up. The solution to this was pretty easy -- skip the supertitles and just watch the action on stage. The actors do such a good job of telling the story physically that, as long as you read the synopsis, you'll be able to get it even if you don't understand the words.

ASTUCIAS POR HEREDAR UN SOBRINA A UN TIO runs at Milagro Theatre through March 3. Boost your theatre history knowledge by checking it out. Details and tickets here.

Photo credit Russell J. Young.

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