Goodbye, Columbus: Those wacky, wild Spaniards
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – As historical figures, both Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella have been in sore need of some PR repair after the full extent of what really happened more than five centuries ago became known.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to help. A production at Trinity Repertory Company is attempting to set us straight on what really happened behind the scenes in the early years of the Age of Exploration and other events in Spain in the early 16th Century in “The Hunchback of Seville” at the Dowling Theatre.
Playwright Charise Castro Smith is disputing the version of events put forth by historians who may have had, so to speak, “a dog in the fight,” and imagined things quite differently in this manic, hilarious, 90-minute mash-up that takes place n late 15th Century and early 16th Century Spain.
The characters are right in the wheelhouse of the nonpareil cast, headed by Phyllis Kay as the hunchback of the title.
There’s a ton of local connections here. Playwright Smith is a television writer and actor from Miami who received her undergraduate degree from Brown and whose works have been performed at some of the country’s most prestigious theaters.
Director Taibi Magar, a Brown grad, describes “Hunchback”in an interview in the Providence Journal as “a playful take on Spanish history as if written by Jon Stewart,” and that sounds about right.
As the piece opens, Columbus (Jessica Ko) is firing back at his critics in the audience who are upset at how he “handled” what ended up being a mass genocide of the people of Hispaniola after he arrived in 1492. He throws it right back in their face. “Do you have a holiday named after you 500 years after your death?”
The heroine of “Hunchback” is indeed a hunchback, one Maxima Terriblé Segundo (Phyllis Kay), the adopted sister, we are told, of Queen Isbaella (Janice Duclos), who’s long on pageantry but not too keen on the gory details of her reign. Maxima, with a rapier wit and cunning to boot, has been stashed away in a tower, not uncommon for one so different. She has taken the time to become educated and well-read.
Maxima is not afraid to chart her own path, a non-believer in very Catholic Spain with a Moor boyfriend named Talib (Joe Wilson, Jr.) – at a time when being a Moor was roughly equivalent to being a Muslim today. Indeed, the government is hot on Talib’s trail, and it is leading right to the tower.
Isabella has a lot on her plate. She’s sickly and on the way out the door, involved in a nasty civil war with her niece Juana – not to be confused with her ultra-wacky daughter Infanta Juana (Nicole Villamil)
Still, the daughter seems to be in line for the throne despite a personality that could best be described as unbalanced, and tantrums that would do a two-year-old proud. Isabella believes that Maxima could serve as Juana’s right-hand man, so to speak, if Juana were to succeed her.
And then there’s Espanta (Anne Scurria), the manic maid who is prone to sporadic, dramatic outbursts that suggests she’s holding onto something that’s really, really big and important to the plot.
It all works, and the laughs pile up and smash against each other as Director Magar keeps events and characters racing forward breathlessly towards the plot-busters at the end that, if you think about it, make perfect sense.
All we can say is: Who knew that those wild, wacky Spaniards – the same folks who brought you genocide in the New World and the Spanish Inquisition – were so much fun?
The Trinity Repertory Theatre production of Charise Castro Smith’s “The Hunchback of Seville.” Directed by Taibi Magar. Through March 6 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets are $25-$71. Call (401) 351-4242, or visit trinityrep.com.