Spanish Gold

Fuente Ovejuna endures. The best-remembered of the 1,800 comedias from the prolific hand of Lope de Vega (two years Shakespeare’s senior and the light of Spain’s Golden Age), it takes its name from the village where most of the action occurs. By Anglo standards, the play is not well-crafted or even competent. The crackling first scene sets up a plot of rivalry between a high military officer and a younger one who outranks him, but that crisis fizzles. When at length the village’s tyrannical governor attempts a rape of a chaste peasant and is slain, the wobbling action at last finds its course. Who killed him? Under torture, every man, woman, and child gives the same evasive reply: “Fuente Ovejuna!” Thus the village secures a royal pardon.

Two years ago, London’s National Theatre created a sensation with an explosive multiracial production of the play in a new translation by Adrian Mitchell. American theaters are now picking it up, most recently the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, in Washington, D.C. (February 12 to April 7, 202-546-4000). It should prove an illuminating cross-cultural excursion —M.G.