1504 Spain has never looked like this before.
In its last-ever production at its 19th Avenue home, Washington Ensemble Theatre presents the world premiere of Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville. The play, directed by Jen Winemen, transports us to a secluded tower bedroom in 16th century Seville, where the characters themselves illuminate the historical doings of the colonist Spain.
Quasimodo is nowhere to be seen in this over-the-top play, but his place is more than filled by another “fairly conspicuous agoraphobic hunchback,” who also happens to love cats, math, and her outlawed Muslim lover: Maxima Terrible Segunda (Samie Detzer). Maxima is joined by a dynamic group of characters, including a dying Queen Isabella (Maria Knox); her spoiled and tantrum-prone daughter, Juana (Libby Barnard); and a devoted servant named Espanta (Rose Cano), who breaks the fourth wall when she welcomes us to their play.
Though the issues that these characters broach are serious ones, Castro Smith has no stipulations about having fun with them. From the beginning of the play—a comical depiction in shadows of the colonization of the Americas, fittingly set to the mocking tune of “We are the Champions”—to Juana’s description of the inquisition as “that thing where we bring boats to those places on [Maxima’s] maps and kill people until they give us gold,” the anti-colonial sentiments are not less strong for their comical presentation. Indeed, for all the laughs it produced, the play was also able to comment on the expulsion of Muslims, terrorism, and Christianity. It even looks to contemporary American society with Maxima’s criticism of Spain’s top one percent.
In its exploration of this “utterly relentless shitty point in history,” the bold play is, in fact, more modern in its outlook than historically accurate. Its mixture of Spanish, American and—on the part of Barnard, at least—sometimes even English accents seems to further this point. Either way, the conclusion that Maxima arrives at is that “Spain is fucked.”
Amidst the play’s genuinely funny moments, there are those that are less effectual. Juana’s prolonged tantrum, though carried out with much spirit by Barnard, is exhausted of humor long before its end. The scene would have benefited much from mere efficiency—and less shrill, almost painfully loud noise—although the facial expressions that it elicits from Detzer and Knox are priceless.
Ultimately, Castro Smith ends the play on a cheery note, fittingly summing up the never-serious commentary. “So let this be a lesson to us all,” the audience is reminded, “as empires rise, so they fall.”
The Hunchback of Seville by Charise Castro Smith. Washington Ensemble Theater, 608 19th Ave. E, Capitol Hill, Seattle 98112. Fri-Mon at 7:30 pm. Through June 30th.
Tickets: (206) 325-5105 or http://washingtonensemble.org/