"BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!" ★★★★★
by Nicole Hertvik on July 10, 2016
DC METRO THEATRE ARTS
Love in Ruins is the third Capital Fringe show written by playwright Paul Handy. Handy’s Cry for the Gods and and Carry a Big Stick appeared at the festival in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Handy would appear to specialize in historical plays, and he didn’t have to look far from home for inspiration for his latest play. In Handy’s words, Love in Ruins is “the true story of my in-laws (Mayte and Guillermo in the play), who met and fell in love in Valencia during the Spanish Civil War. They were truly survivors of all the deprivations that occurred during the war as Franco’s troops advanced slowly toward Valencia. This is a story of people surviving and seeking love when all conditions for love appear to be hopeless.”
Mayte and Guillermo meet in 1936, the first year of the Spanish Civil War. They come from two different worlds: Mayte is a liberal peasant, a student of literature and supporter of the Republicans while Guillermo is from the conservative upper crust of Spanish society, believes in order and tradition, and is a Franco supporter.
The cast was led by Thais Menendez as Mayte and Calvin McCullough as Guillermo. Both turned in solid, convincing performances. Daniel Santiago and Sheila Blanc rounded out the cast as Vicente and Josefina.
Calvin McCullough’s Guillermo experienced the most character growth as a man who starts out full of staunch convictions and must come to terms with change as the world falls apart around him.
Menendez played Mayte as a strong woman, able to handle whatever the world throws at her. The fact that Menendez is a bilingual English/Spanish speaker lent to the play’s authenticity.
Director Clare Shaffer paid great attention to detail in preparing the show. She spoke to the actual surviving “Guillermo” and several of the props onstage, including a Spanish Republican flag, were owned by the couple. The show involves numerous changes in locale (a library, a coffee shop, a bull ring and two homes) and Shafer impressively staged this with minimal props and without letting the changes be confusing or distracting to audiences.
Mark Platenberg’s music and sound design was a great asset to the show. We hear the crowd as the couple attends a bull fight and when Franco finally wrests control of Spain from the Republicans, it becomes a visceral moment onstage through an authentic sounding radio broadcast of a Franco speech (voiced in Spanish by Daniel Santiago).
Jessica Aimone deserves attention for the beautiful cover art she created for the show’s program which depicts the lovely Thais Menendez in traditional Spanish attire in front of the Spanish Republican flag.
I felt that Handy’s script could benefit from tightening up and enriching the dialogue. The story was entertaining but it plodded along at times and lacked a certain zing that one hopes would occur during moments of deep human connection.
That said, Love in Ruins is a very beautiful story and all the more so knowing that it was created by people with close ties to the fascinating lives it depicts.
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!
"Left to the expert hands of director Clare Shaffer... a beautiful exploration of love, grief, and the healing process played out against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war. Based on the true story of the playwright’s parents-in-law, this is a gripping tale of love and loss." ★★★★
July 10, 2016 by Christian Sullivan
DC THEATRE SCENE
Love in Ruins is a beautiful exploration of love, grief, and the healing process played out against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war. Based on the true story of the playwright’s parents-in-law, this is a gripping tale of love and loss.
Following the love shared between fine arts major Mayte (Thais Menendez) and her true love Vicente (Daniel Santiago), we watch as strong feelings blossom between the young couple. After Vicente is killed protecting a bridge, Mayte has to figure out how to carry on in a world that seems intent on leaving her in misery. She becomes entangled with Guillermo, (Calvin McCullough) a man who is being manipulated by his mother (Sheila Blanc).
Left to the expert hands of director Clare Shaffer, the actors move through the limited space of the Logan Fringe Arts upstairs: transforming the space from a college library to people’s homes. The actors speak in English with a peppering of Spanish that makes the lingual transitions far less awkward than many productions. The Spanish is not forced, but is used to remind us of where we are. Shaffer keeps the pace quick, leaving little time for the audience to rest on its laurels.
The troupe is quick and tight, a fantastic ensemble of actors with quick wits and good heads on their shoulders. Though the script starts both Mayte and Guillermo out as cold and distant, the two actors quickly found their strides. Menendez in particular makes strong choices to humanize a character that could be read as cold and calculating. Two scenes, one in which Guillermo reads a pair of letters to Mayte and another in which our cigar-smoking leading man takes her to a bullfight, stand out as especially moving.
The stars of the show, however, are Santiago and Blanc. A newcomer to Fringe, the young Santiago plays Vicente with the bull-headedness of youth and the passion of new love. Maryland-native and veteran of the DC theatre scene, Blanc is wonderful as a mother trying to protect her two boys the only way she knows how. It is refreshing to see a strong matriarchal character, despite her shortcomings as a compassionate woman.
I would be remiss if I were to ignore the technical elements of this show, specifically: Costumes and Sound. Costumer Joan Lawrence makes use of simple layering and accent pieces to turn the usual Fringe-standard of “everyone only has 1-2 costumes” into a far more interesting world. Adding a piece, removing a jacket, or slightly altering the look for a suit help the audience demarcate shifts in time and place. Mark Platenberg has done an exquisite job of underscoring the show with beautiful music and a lively soundscape. It is not often that a show at Fringe so extensively uses the sound system.
Unfortunately, the space itself works against Platenberg and the actors. The wonderful sound design was undercut many times by the band playing downstairs, giving this reviewer flashbacks to seeing shows at the Gypsy Tent. The music sounded fine, but was jarring set against the show and sounds already being played out in front of me. Fringe would also benefit from purchasing some carpet, as we are privy to every single footfall made by an actor backstage. It is almost comical to listen to the sound of an actor approach, and then watch as they hit the stage and their shoes go silent.
This is another production, however, that sometimes is done few favors by the script itself. The language reads almost as if it was written in Spanish and then Google translated back to English, often adhering awkwardly to the rigid grammar and sentence structure that can make language feel unnatural.
Love in Ruins has the same pitfall of many shows here, in that the time and movement needed for transitions has to be done in ghost lighting for safety. Due to the limitations of the space, the transitions take just more time than is comfortable to watch.
If you are looking for a sweet romance, a stirring period piece, or a heart-warming true story, this is the show for you. Heavy themes with moments of levity, “Love in Ruins” is certain not to leave your evening in ruins.
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