While watching Fuente Ovejuna, Miracle Theatre's current production, I couldn't help but notice that my date and I were the youngest people in the audience by a good 10 years. And that, my friends, is a damn shame. Fuente Ovejuna may sound a bit boring on paper (the script was written in 1614), but there's nothing dull about this ambitious, polished production that shines with intelligence, humor, and contemporary relevance. The play takes place in the small Spanish town of Fuente Ovejuna, ruled by the nefarious Comendador Fernan Gomez (Michael Mendelson). The townspeople attempt to endure Gomez's heavy-fisted bullying, but when he rapes the mayor's daughter, Laurencia (Amaya Villazan), it proves the last straw for the harried villagers; the townspeople rise up and overthrow his brutal regime. A charming subplot involving the relationship between Laurencia and a young villager provides a counterpoint to the Comendador's lifestyle of violence and greed.
The Fuente Ovejuna cast is a refreshing balance of young and old actors, all of whom give subtle, nuanced performances--the townspeople in particular have a palpable chemistry, maintaining solidarity in the face of violence and torture. The script is dense and occasionally archaic, but the cast succeeds at making the difficult language sound natural. The absorbing dialogue is accentuated by the set's simple metal frames--unassuming surroundings that help keep the focus on the words.
The production's only misstep is the use of "multimedia" (two small television screens on either side of the stage) to reinforce the timelessness of the play's themes. While the decision to use video screens to establish place in the absence of a set change is understandable (for example, showing pictures of beer when the scene takes place in a pub), silent video footage of 9/11, CNN, and Hitler--among other things--distracts more than it enlightens. It's true that the script is challenging at times--but much like any good production of Shakespeare, what's necessary for the audience to grasp the thematic nuance is a talented, expressive cast, and Miracle Theater certainly has that.