‘Don Juan Tenorio’
Through Oct. 1
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th St., N.W.
At 20, author and playwright Nando López came out to his parents.
“When the conversation reached a very dramatic moment,” he says, “there was a pause and then my father said, ‘Well, you were born on June 28 so it all makes sense. My birthday is also gay Pride day in Madrid, the city where I grew up. The seriousness of the moment was lost and everything was just fine. I think they already knew anyway.”
López certainly already knew. The successful novel that he wrote as a teenager featured a gay protagonist and his work has continued to have if not gay characters then gay sensibilities.
“From the start my sexuality has played a part in my writing,” says López, 40. “It’s impossible for it not to. I’m gay and that’s my way of experiencing love and life.”
His ever-increasing body of work includes subsequent novels, theatrical pieces and adaptations of classic Spanish plays. Currently, Lopez’s scintillating adaption of José Zorrilla’s “Don Juan Tenorio” is playing at GALA Hispanic Theatre, the esteemed company housed in a pleasingly renovated slice of the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights.
Staged by out director José Carrasquillo, the production features a compelling cast led by Iker Lastra in the title role.
When GALA’s producing artistic director Hugo Medrano asked López to adapt Zorrilla’s 1844 play about the devious lothario who leaves a wake of destruction in his path, López was initially surprised.
“I have a problem with the title character. I don’t like him. I agreed to write an adaption on condition that I could look into this classic and write something personal. I changed the female characters. I didn’t want weak women.”
Unlike Zorrilla’s version in which Don Juan finds religious redemption, here Don Juan achieves redemption through his conquest Doña Inés, endowing the teenage girl with power.
“Don Juan is complex. He primarily loves himself, but he pursues women and shares a sexual attraction with his rival Don Luis (Peter Pereyra). Don Juan is definitely bisexual.”
Like many GALA offerings, Don Juan is performed in Spanish with English surtitles. And though López speaks fluent, charmingly accented English, he didn’t write the play’s English translation.
“For me theater is a team effort,” he says. “When I hand the script over to the director, producer and actors, that’s it. Similarly, GALA gives me total freedom to write what I want. If the adaptation works that’s good and if it fails it’s my fault.”
López’s connection with GALA began several years ago when director José Luis Arellano tapped him to write an adaptation of late gay playwright and martyr Federico García Lorca’s “Yerma,” the gripping tale of a childless woman living in rural Spain. The production went on to win the 2016 Helen Hayes Award for outstanding play.
“Classic Spanish works involve many characters and complicated stories,” he says.
He respects the originals but looks for their essence while rewriting, simplifying plot lines and streamlining casts. Like Zorrilla’s play, López’s adaptation is also written in verse.
After his recent week-long stay in D.C. for the opening, Lòpez has returned to Madrid where he lives with his husband, a trained architect who works as a translator for the European Union. Lòpez is currently finishing up his latest novel and awaiting the opening of “The Age of Rage,” his new English language play that involves themes of racism, violence and homophobia among 21st century teenagers.
Looking forward, López hopes to continue his relationship with GALA and D.C.
“I believe in GALA’s work. It’s a particularly important at this time to have a meeting place for Hispanic culture,” Lopez says. “I thank GALA for that and for introducing me to Washington. In my experience, it’s been an open minded and welcoming city.”