‘El Caballero de Olmedo’/'The Knight from Olmedo’
Through October 17
Gala Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th St., NW
The Chekhov International Theatre Festival
The Kennedy Center
British director Declan Donnellan and set designer Nick Ormerod met in 1972 when both were aspiring theater professionals in their early 20s. They fell in love and some years later formed Cheek by Jowl, a London-based theater company that has performed successfully worldwide. The pair have been living and working together ever since.
For a short time, D.C. audiences will have the chance to check out two of the longtime partners’ many collaborations: Part of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival, Donnellan and Ormerod’s productions of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and an all-male take on Shakespeare’s comedic tale of love and mistaken identity, “Twelfth Night,” are playing at the Kennedy Center next week for just two performances each. The pair of classics will be performed in Russian with English surtitles.
Every season the Kennedy Center produces major international festivals highlighting different regions of the world while also presenting individual performances by acclaimed international artists and companies who are doing contemporary work. This time it’s a famed British director and Russian actors. Donnellan and Ormerod have worked with the Chekhov Festival since 2000.
Making its U.S. premiere, the touring festival’s “Three Sisters” (that poignant portrait of family and disappointment in turn-of-the-century Russia) is “a wonderful opportunity for Washington audiences to see and hear Chekhov performed in his native language; to hear how the cadence of the Russian language informs the shape of the play,” says Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s head of international programming.
“Donnellan’s critically acclaimed, all-male production of ‘Twelfth Night’ provides a different point of view about identity than a more traditional production might,” Adams says. “Certainly, it adds a layer ambiguity about gender that is at the heart of this piece.”
This production is a revival; it was last seen in the United States in 2006 and is coming to the Kennedy Center for a D.C. premiere and exclusive North American engagement.
If you’re quick there’s still time to catch another gay couple’s theatrical effort at Gala Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights where Spanish director José Luis Arellano García’s earthy and athletic production of Lope de Vega’s “El caballero de Olmedo (“The Knight from Olmedo”) runs through Sunday. García’s partner, David R. Peralto, provides a varying pulse to the circa 1620 tragedy with his own period-sounding compositions and selected folk music. Performed in the beautifully lyric Spanish of Lope de Vega (Spain’s Shakespeare), this show also features surtitles.
The story follows the ill-fated love affair between young Alonso (Juan Caballero), the knight from Olmedo and Inés (Emme Bonilla) a refined young girl who lives comfortably in Medina with her boy-crazy sister (a delightful Karen Morales-Chacana) and rather removed father (Mel Rocher). Like most plays of the era, this one too is filled with mistaken identity, dopey squires, a ribald go-between, midnight assignations and a generous serving of knives and blood.
As Inés, Bonilla does a good job giving both innocence and smoldering sensuality — no easy trick; and Jerry Nelson Soto brings lots of heat and frustration to the stage as Inès’ spurned suitor Rodrigo.
García imbues the centuries-old piece with contemporary humor and a vivid intensity. He successfully accesses the characters’ physical side, and accordingly puts his in-shape actors through the paces: They’re banging the floor, trading piggy back rides or perilously climbing an upstage wall of horizontal slate-colored bars. José Luis Raymond’s minimal set is made from all the elements of the bullring: sand, metal, and wood — an ideal environment in which to play out Lope de Vega’s story of love, lust, jealousy and revenge.