Theatre: 'La Dama Duende'

'Dama' lost in translastion

La Dama Duende (The Phantom Lady)


The GALA Hispanic Theatre at The Warehouse Theatre 1021 Seventh St. NW (202) 234-7174 Metro: Mt. Vernon Square and Gallery Place Runs through March 7, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets: $28, $18-20 for students

"La Dama Duende" (The Phantom Lady), a comedy of the Spanish Golden Age by Pedro Calder¢n de la Barca, has been reincarnated by the GALA Hispanic Theatre under the direction of Hugo Medrano. Originally written and set in the 17th century, the show retains its meaning and gains some spunk in Medrano's new setting: Spain in the 1920s.

Despite the new setting, the plot remains the same: Do¤a Angela (Menchu Esteban), a widow whose brothers keep her in an isolated room, chances upon Don Manuel (Oscar Ceville), a guest of her brothers, and uses a secret passageway in the house to leave him mysterious letters in his room. As the correspondence between the two develops, Don Manuel tries to discover the identity of the lady while she struggles to keep her identity a secret.

There are quite a few ghost stories and narrow escapes along the way. Much of the comedy, however, happens at the expense of Don Manuel's attendant Cosme (Luis Sim¢n), whose part requires such over-the-top acting that the character would have been right at home on "Full House."

Though the costumes and the set were marvelous, the comedy itself felt much too forced. The Spanish speakers in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, suggesting that the problem was not

the script or staging, but the language barrier. Though the theatre offers audio headsets with instantaneous English dubbing, Spanish idioms, when translated to English, hardly carry the same meaning.

The dubbing actually hurts more than it helps the non-Spanish speaker. The English quite clearly comes from readers, not actors. While the stage actors put everything into their parts, the English readers lack even an ounce of enthusiasm. They frequently stumble over words and even more frequently get ahead of the stage actors, meaning that facial expressions and blocking often did not fit with the dialogue.

But what lacked in audio was made up in visual. Since the theatre is small, designers certainly faced challenges in dividing up the stage for different scenes. A large glass-paneled wall toward the back of the stage defined a hall area that served well for secret conversations.

Perhaps the highlight of the show was the elegant costuming. No expenses were spared in designing the popular fashions of the 1920s: Low-waist dresses, long pearl necklaces and riding boots. The costumes especially came to life during four musical numbers in the show that captured the glamour and the vivacity of the roaring '20s.

Visually, the show couldn't have been better.

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