Put together great casting,
direction (Jonathan Munby), and acting; throw in wonderful set design, costumes, and lighting; and combine it with an outstanding
translation (David Johnston) and script, and what do you get: The Dog in the Manger, concluding its excellent
run at the Shakespeare Theater Company this week (to 3/29). The story involves a classic love triangle, exploring the impact
of desire on the emotions.
This is a work of total collaboration by cast and artistic team, with all cylinders firing on this Spanish classic by Lope
de Vega. The story is clearly told, spend a little on the website (www.shakespeare.org) delving into the synopsis and background and get ready to be entertained. The timing was impeccable, the
cast getting all the laughs before the always tough matinee crowd of seniors and students. This is a triple translation of
language, place, and time with great attention given to the rhythm and poetry.
I could write pages about the many pleasures the design held for me.
The set with its rolled curtain and zoomed view (read Chuck Close) of female royalty greets the arriving theatergoer.
The eyes (green for jealousy) stare out through a lightened rectangle, transecting the center, and emphasizing the
omnipresence of the central character. The wooden borders cut with hints of fleur de lis, suggest a confessional
or aural quality that lurks, manifested later in the play when Teordoro cautions that the tapestries have eyes that see and
the wall ears that hear. The costumes are a marvel: Diana is dressed later in stunning red, while the courters
in chartreuse and bright green , are a visual treat. The lighting casts appropriate shadows on the nebulous
world of the play and heightens the characters emotions. Operatic and flamenco excerpts were nicely evocative of the play’s
The Dog in the Manger - a fable in which the dog will neither eat nor let others
eat as well – is typically identified with Diana, who consistently rebuffs the attentions for her hand of those around
her while thwarting the happiness of others. But it’s a little more complicated – the allusion seems strained
because Diana knows what she wants; she just can’t outright buck the social strictures to get it.
The phrase, invoked like a curse says more about her social inferiors. If there’s any dog,
it’s not Diana. And the manger, following the literal Spanish, is suggestive of a garden (or hothouse)
or a funhouse where everything is distorted. Toward the end Theordo states tellingly that this house has
made him the man he is and indeed it has.
Marcella loves Theordo, but wait Countess Diana gets wind of it and begins to undermine
the relationship as she stakes a claim for his affections. In the background are two suitors for her hand,
who also must be kept in the air. The action moves back and forth as love is continually offered
then withdrawn in the complicated, but always humorous relationships. A better proverb for this play, a
French one: in love there is always one who kisses and one who offers the check.
Countess Dianna (Michelle Hurd) starts out in a snit and maintains a slow simmer when
her very regal presence is thwarted. She delivers a command performance. Teordoro (Michael Hayden) is the
modern man on the make, ready to take his advantage where it will. It is wonderful to watch him wavering
as he attempts to see which way the wind of love is blowing. His splendidly negotiates the character through
the labyrinth of love and power. Miriam Silverman as Marcela, the odd woman out, plays her jilted character
for all that it is worth. Jonathan Hammond as Marquess Richard and John Livingston Rolle
as Count Frederico as are delightfully over the top as Diana’s foppish suitors.
David Turner as Tristan steals virtually every scene he’s
in. He’s a sight to behold as he strolls about the stage delivering droll asides and snappy comebacks
as the mood suits him and the situation warrants. Comic servants work their masters like handlers. The
comedic elements clearly outshine the occasional dark spaces the play explores. David Sabin plays dual rolls of Octavio and
Ludovico to perfection as do just about all other members of this inspired cast.
The great chain of being is tested,
where everything has its place and must be in its place to maintain the social order. Forbidden love
between a noblewoman and a commoner is on the table. Honor is synonymous with reputation in this
hierarchical society, and is privileged, a concept that may be somewhat puzzling to a modern audience more familiar with image
control and branding.
Themes of love and desire are explored like some renaissance Erich Roemer film,
with characters discoursing on the place of jealousy, envy, and desire vis à vis love. This
is a play about artifice and misdirection, everyone’s
playing at something there not, right until and including the end when actors solicit the connivance of the audience in the
big secret of their union.
The one disappointment I had was
to find that “vocal accompaniment” had found its way into a live performance. But then it played
at the Super Bowl and is out at other venues, so I guess this will become more accepted. I’d try
to better hide it with the wandering singer - place her more upstage - but this is a minor quibble.
The concluding dance number and well staged choreography, resulted
in a thunderous, Standing "O" from the very satisfied crowd. This is a must see for theatergoers
and it will surely catch the attention of those arbiters of taste on Wisconsin Avenue, and deservedly so, next April. Don’t
Sound check: Average Program Notes: Outstanding
Applause Meter: 4 hands