When Spanish playwright, poet and novelist, Felix Lope de Vega y Carpio, penned the play Fuentovejuna, he had no idea that the drama, based on true life political unrest in the little town of same title would be relevant in today’s world, more so, his portrayal of women’s role in the revolutionising of a society.
In our society where women have been reduced to political praise-singers, and the very few in authoritative positions, facing unusual adversity, even stripped of their powers, Fuentovejuna highlights the importance of women’s inclusion and participation for social and political change.
Directed by Seyi Lovingkindness Babalola, the play captures significant moments where the women, more than the men of the little village, ruled by the despot and sexually depraved Commander Fernando Gomez, spoke out against their tyrannical leader while the men sought to make the best out of the oppressive environment. Characters like Laurentia, Pascuala and the pants-wearing Mengo, challenge the idea of love, and fend-off stoutly the amorous attentions of the Commander.
While the men didn’t take action under the corrupt regime, it took the rousing speech of Laurentia, shaming her father, uncle and the men folk of Fuentovejuna, to take action in the manner of a jungle justice to overthrow their despotic ruler. Laurentia, an outspoken young maiden, engaged to Frondoso, who had saved her from rape at the hand of the Commander, is set to marry her newfound love. But their wedding reception was interrupted by the Commander, who arrested Frondoso with an immediate verdict of death by hanging, carrying off the bride to his palace. Viewed sometime later, her hair wild, still dressed in her now red-stained wedding gown, and wide, stormy eyes flashing in anger against her male relatives and village folks, she cursed the men and women for turning a blind-eye as their women are subjected to indignity, shaming them to action. She also roused the womenfolk to defend their honour and in one of the symbolic moments of the play, the women turned kitchen cooking wares into weapons of death.
Dressed in black wielding sticks and clubs, ladles, spoons, frying pans and brooms, the audience is once again privy to the production’s climax, one created by the director Babalola, added to the play. In Babalola’s additive – As the entire village crowded on the screaming commander and his loyal officer, hands draw wide a white sheet as more hands grab back behind the sheet, the screaming Commander and his officer, the audience hear strangling scream punctuated by deafening blows overshadowed by the peoples’ revolutionary chants. Blood spurts all over the white sheet. Silence ensues. The stage is cleared and nothing but streaks of red stain on the forestage floor. This moment, significant for sparing the audience the gory details, yet magnifying its impact, put to the audience more clearly than anything, the gravity of the incident.
In setting the mood of the play, Babalola stuck to the olden-English language, with a few ayes, ye’s and thous’ mixed with enunciated 20th century English. A tweak in contemporary wears, achieves the era’s costumery, enabling the audience to visualise folks of a little village with low means suffering the rule of a tyrannical leader. There was little spectacle in the costumery, setting or props, rather, the director focused on the use of costumes, themes of despotism, revolution, murder and dialogue to sustain the audience’s interest in the unfolding story.
Generally, the stage could have been redesigned to keep away the monotonous stage backdrop which featured in number of the plays at the Jos Theatre Festival, the make-up seems non-existent, and further actor, Emmanuel Ekpe Inyang’s dialogue can be better modulated to fit rhythm of the play and flow of other performers. But Babalola’s symbolic additional scene, the production’s highlight of those significant moments for women, and actress Emily Joke Bello’s portrayal of the spirited and independent Laurentia, outweighed the tepid scenes and dialogues on the ideal of love which passed over the audience’s hair.