Grand Valley receives grant to perform at international drama festival

Genesis Loza will perform as Antona Garcia
Genesis Loza will perform as Antona Garcia
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Grand Valley State University is the only group from the U.S. invited by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, to perform during the 2012 international Spanish Golden Age Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, March 6-8. Funding has been provided by a federal grant for travel and two Grand Valley performances of the English translation premiere of “Antona Garcia.”

Encore performances will be featured at Grand Valley’s Performing Arts Center from March 30 – April 7. To purchase tickets, $6-$12, call the Louis Armstrong box office at (616) 331-2300.

An English translation and stage adaptation of the play, written by Tirso de Molina in 1635, was recently developed by Grand Valley faculty members Jason Yancey, assistant professor of Spanish, and James Bell, assistant professor of theater. Molina, an outstanding dramatist of the Golden Age of Spanish literature who wrote more than 300 pieces, is best known for introducing the character Don Juan in “El burlador de Sevilla.”

“Antona García,” written more than 150 years after Spain’s war against Portugal, during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, is about a beautiful and legendary young heroine. The character is undeterred by injury, imprisonment, the death of her husband, or giving birth to twins, during her pivotal role in preventing Portugal from taking the Spanish throne.

Bell, a seasoned playwright, noted the play’s unusual distinctions from other period pieces. “The Spanish Golden Age plays were serious/comic diversions usually about powerful men who fell in love with beautiful women, or women characters who dressed as men to vindicate their honor,” said Bell. “‘Antona Garcia’ is different in that one woman is the dominant character, and she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s a woman, but rather is valued for her beauty, strength and accomplishments.”

Though the production will be performed in English, it features traditional “entremeses” performed in Spanish by 12 students in a Spanish drama class taught by Yancey. “This play is an adventure/romance, filled with action and rollicking with humor in the vein of ‘The Princess Bride,’ or ‘Xena Warrior Princess,’” said Yancey. “The tone is set for the audience by the entremeses, which are Spanish scenes interspersed throughout the performance, yet they are unrelated to the play. They serve more as comic-relief intermissions and are also distinguished by the use of masks worn by these performers.”

They will be joined by 14 other cast members under the direction of Karen Libman, professor of theatre. “It is a huge honor for Grand Valley to be invited to perform as part of the Spanish Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Memorial,” said Libman. “The other groups invited are professional theater companies from Mexico and Spain.”

In conjunction with the festival is the Association for Hispanic Classical Theater conference for scholars and audience members to discuss the original literary form that inspired the modern performances staged there. Both Bell and Yancey will speak at the conference and hope their production reignites discussion of Molina and his place in the Golden Age of Spanish literature.

The Chamizal National Memorial was established in 1963 to commemorate a treaty, which resulted in the peaceful settlement of a century-long border dispute between Mexico and the U.S. Since its start in 1976, the Spanish Drama Festival at the memorial has attained an international reputation for presenting quality performances by theatrical groups from around the world. It has hosted more than 250 productions from 15 countries.

Visit http://www.nps.gov/cham/planyourvisit/chamizal-theatre.htm for more information about the theater at Chamizal National Memorial.