Farce is the hardest genre in theater to pull off well yet may very well be just what our society needs to cure our collective needs. In La valentía (Valor), playwright Alfredo Sanzol, the young darling from Madrid’s equivalent of London’s West End, has created, in the guise of a ghost story, a fast-paced romp while asking us how far we will go to live an authentic life and have our needs met.
GALA Hispanic Theatre has knocked itself out to provide all the trappings. Starting with the set, the assembled design team of Samuel Klaas (set) and Christian Henrríquez (lighting) make their GALA debuts and have worked magic to fill the stage to its proscenium rafters, having created a great mansion of many rooms where requisite farcical elements can be incorporated. Doors are slammed, disguises are donned and discarded (including a ghost and a full suit of medieval armor kudos to costume designer Alexa Duimstra), and the actors are run through a veritable steeplechase on this multi-leveled stage. The audience is also treated to a plethora of special lighting effects and sound effects by sound designer Justin Schmitz as befits such a “spooky spectacular.”
Farce hinges on a plot-heavy story, and here the playwright provides us with a tale of two sisters battling over the family’s inheritance of what was once a great country house. While the two duke it out over what to do with the white elephant, growing industrialization has built a major highway right up against the property. Both women summon others to help provide what each sees as solutions to the situation.
A good farce delivers a world of zany characters, and here too GALA does not disappoint, bringing together company favorites with guest actors from Spain, Mexico, and New York. Company member Luz Nicolás pairs well with Spanish, New York–based Sandra Gumuzzio as the sisters Trini and Guada. Nicolás demonstrates once more she is a fabulous physical actor, inventing a physical character arc that takes Trini from a tight-stepped, weight-back-on-her-heels rigidity to a wild thing, flinging her body fearlessly through space then flopping around the set like a fish out of water. Gumuzzio plays Guada with a more grounded physicalization, and her portrait of a woman trying to hold on to her home is physically truthful and emotionally compelling. But the forces, real and supernatural, let loose in the house, push both sisters to the brink.
The whole cast of characters are conceived and work dramatically in pairs. There are the Specter Brothers specializing in “any guns-for hire” funny business, here purportedly as ghostbusters but in actuality to scare the wits out of Guada and get her to give up the house. Delbis Cardona and Carlos Castillo’s scenes with the tricycle and their disguises as twin “scary” little girls, both homages to Kubrick’s The Shining, are killingly funny, as is their Upstairs, Downstairs romancing.
There is also a pair of ancestral ghosts, who arrive in the guise of Airbnb renters to experience the “old worldly” manse. In the hands of Paloma de Vega (Martina) and Víctor Salinas (Martin), the two seem to be the most real of all these pretenders. But who are they really?
Director José Zayas keeps the show humming and the humor coming. This is his seventh show with GALA, and he knows how to deliver the broad “Madrid style” of comedy. (And yes, even without an intermission the work seems long for American tastes.) But for all the gags and dizzying choreographic business, I think Zayas is also going for something deeper about Spanish society and temperament.
He and playwright Sanzol reveal a radical streak in society historically when citizens have been pushed to find radical actions as solutions. At the same time, they’ve challenged us with something both personal and universal: when do we recognize there’s a time to let go of cherished memories and outworn ways of living?
Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.
La valentía (Valor) plays through May 14, 2023, at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online. Regular tickets are $48 Thursday through Sunday. Senior (65+), military, and group (10+) tickets are $35; and student (under 25) tickets are $25. Noche de GALA tickets are $55 each. For more more information, visit galatheatre.org or call (202) 234-7174.
In Spanish with English surtitles.
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All patrons age 5 and up MUST provide either proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID test (taken within 72 hours prior to show time) to be admitted to the theater. Children 0-4 years old accompanied by fully vaccinated parents do not need to show proof of a negative COVID test. Regardless of vaccination status, the wearing of masks is mandatory for the performances on April 27, May 7, and May 12. See GALA’s complete COVID-19 Safety Policy.
La valentía (Valor)
Written by Alfredo Sanzol
Directed by José Zayas
Cast: Sandra Gumuzzio (Guada), Luz Nicolás (Trini), Víctor Salinas (Martín), Paloma de Vega (Martina), Carlos Castillo (Felipe), Delbis Cardona (Clemen)
Creative Team: Sam Klaas (Scenic Design), Christian Henrríquez (Lighting Design), Justin Schmitz (Sound Design), Alexa Duimstra (Costume Design), Tessa Grippaudo (Properties Design), Sarah Reed (Associate Scenic Design), Ilyana Rose-Dávila (Stage Manager) Jon Townson (Technical Director), P. Vanessa Losada (Production Manager), Hugo Medrano (Producer).