Theater

Cronyism

The Slight, Forgettable Witchcraft of La Celestina

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THE MIRACLE THEATRE'S La Celestina is a slight little show, a slip of a thing that barely clocks in at 90 minutes and disappears from memory nearly as soon as it's through.

Adapted from a 1499 Spanish novel, this Spanish-language show (there are supertitles in English) introduces a naïve rich girl, a pragmatic prostitute, and a couple of love-sick men who all have their stars crossed at various angles. They turn for help to the conniving old crone Celestina (Bibiana Lorenzo Johnston), a witchlike figure renowned for her ability to restore virginity to "maidens" who need to feign purity on their wedding night. She's also hell bent on avenging old grudges, no matter what the cost.

The Miracle's adaptation keeps the audience at arm's length from the story with a narrator of sorts: A "Trovador"(CarlosAlexis Cruz) paces the stage armed with a large book containing the story itself, from which he guides the audience from scene to scene. This is a smart device—it frames the events of the show as self-consiously fictional, rather than asking the audience to invest strongly in the plot's silly contrivances. Within this framework, tragic events unfold at the rapid-fire pace of a comedy.

The no-frills stage is dominated by a painted floor, decorated with labial blots that resemble a pinkish oil spill or a Georgia O'Keeffe painting. Aside from the floor, there's not much to look at: Three white curtains provide a backdrop and occasional scrim for shadow-played scenes. In one climactic moment, the curtains are shaken to good effect, creating a chaotic tumult. Otherwise, it's an oddly blank set that doesn't so much feel austere as incomplete.

Perhaps the low-impact set is for the benefit of the non-Spanish speakers in the crowd, because the show's quick dialogue meant I hardly took my eyes off the supertitles. The supertitles themselves seemed dim, occasionally washed out by bright, injudiciously placed lights, making it difficult at times to keep up with who was saying what.

La Celestina has some entertainingly bawdy moments—it's quite frank and funny about sex—but it's such a quick, frothy show that it's hard to much care what happens to the characters, and comedy alone can't carry it. In the end, it's fast and forgettable—not a bad show, but not an essential one, either.

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