But what I’m going to tell you is a different and very special story. For centuries, scholars and academics were in search of Mujeres y Criados (Women and Servants, MyC from now on), a play Mr de Vega talked about in letters and writings but of which there were no manuscripts or references to past performances. But as luck would have it, the missing text was found in 2010 at the National Library of Spain, making this comedy of intrigue available to be performed for the first time after almost 400 years.
So five years later, this past month of April, the play finally returned to the stage, opening at the Teatro Español in Madrid, where it was performed for a month before starting a national tour (which is how I ended up seeing it in August at the theatre at San Javier).
Let me start with the plot, and bear with me, because it gets a bit complicated. MyC is the story of two servants to a count, Claridán and Teodoro, who are in love with two sisters, Violante and Luciana, respectively. The intrigue begins when the count decides he wants to seduce Luciana, while the girls’ father pushes Violante towards a much unmatched marriage to the lousy gentleman Don Pedro. Thanks to the cunning personalities of the sisters and plenty of nit-picking and ruses, the story evolves and culminates with a satisfactory and hilarious ending. But that is not all. De Vega’s writing is witty and extremely funny and it made me laugh out loud pretty much every two minutes, and the barrier of it being a text from the 17th century didn’t prevent this. The text is so smooth and yet so sophisticated that de Vega doesn’t go for an easy laugh: if you find something funny (pretty much everything), it’s because it deserves to be so.
And of course, it wouldn’t be the same without the cast, a group of actors who are especially trained to recite classical texts. The week before I had seen a performance of Calderón de la Barca’s The Mayor of Zalamea and the difference was abysmal: these actors weren’t prepared to deliver a text in verse, didn’t know how to make the breaks while making sense. But the company from the Teatro Español were splendid, bringing the play alive and delivering their lines with a naturalness that simply made the performance as good as it could ever be.
By the way, in case you are wondering, the play was published in 2014, although I do not know when it will be translated into English. I would not recommend reading it in Spanish unless you know the language very well, because it has some old words and expressions that can get the foreign reader a bit lost.
But let’s be thankful for the recovery of this play, because it’s Lope at his best.