The Rising Class: The Hanslick Girls on the Wirtz Center’s “Fuente Ovejuna”
By Zach Barr
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Fuente Ovejuna,” Susan E. Bowen and Kori Alston’s new adaptation of Lope de Vega’s 17th century play. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“I don’t know who any of those actors were,” Eleanor said as she walked into the dark outside the Barber Theatre.
Gwen followed close behind, through the revolving door. “A lot of them are new,” Gwen said. “It’s an MFA thing, where the directors cast a lot of new performers in their shows. It happened with Agamemnon back in January, remember?”
“I suppose,” Eleanor said. “I mean, the lead guy, the evil one, he’s been in things before, right?”
“Gómez? Or the romantic interest for Laurencia?”
“Gómez,” Eleanor continued. “But the love interest is Edward Tulane, right?”
“Noah LaPook, yes. And Gómez was Alex Quiñones, he was in Urinetown and Gatsby this year. He’s something of a Wirtz Center regular.”
“But basically everyone else was new, right?” Eleanor asked. “The girl, and the queen and king, and that evil green dude — I’ve definitely seen the mayor with the staff before…”
“With the beard and the hair?”
“Connor Scott. Cardenio and Peter and the Starcatcher.”
“But yes, I did see a lot of “freshman” and “Wirtz Center début” in the program,” Gwen agreed.
The revolving door spun and Dania exited the Barber Lobby.
“That was good!” Dania said.
“I thought you might like it,” Gwen said. “It’s new, but it’s still a classic text, so you know it’s got a story that lasted for many centuries.”
“Sure,” Dania said. “I hate how relevant it is now, though…”
“You hate the — ”
“I mean, you know, I hate that the issues are all still relevant now,” Dania clarified. “Freedom of speech and female empowerment and everything. But, you know, it’s good that they still did the show now.”
“Right,” Eleanor said.
“I’m assuming the rap section was not in the original text,” Dania asked, as they began to walk away from the theatre.
“No, I don’t think so,” Gwen chuckled. “I think that was the new adaptors.”
“The dance sequence at the beginning too,” Eleanor pointed out. “And the rhythmic part when they were sieging the city.”
“I did wonder why there was only one clear rap section,” Gwen wondered. “And why it was performed by the people who performed it…”
“What, hip young white boys?” Dania asked, smiling.
“Precisely,” Gwen said.
“I liked that one non-white boy, though,” Eleanor said. “The one with the hat, not the ginger one. I mean I liked the ginger one but — ”
“Jordan Moore?” Gwen asked. “I don’t know the character’s name but Jordan Moore is the actor.”
“He was very good,” Eleanor said. “I was focusing on him during a lot of the group scenes, he was very interesting to watch.”
“I liked the ginger’s physicality,” Dania said. “He actually looked like he had been beaten up and had to walk again.”
“He’s a dancer,” Gwen said, of Jacob Entenman. “Good physical control.”
“Everyone was pretty good,” Eleanor said. “For the most part. I don’t really think any of the performers stood out as lacking, at least not in memory…”
“I wish the king and queen got to do more,” Dania said.
“I do too,” Gwen said.
“Not that they were bad, I just wanted more from them,” Dania said. “That kid’s voice is low. So, so low.”
“And he’s a freshman,” Eleanor said, glancing in her program again. “Like, what?”
“The girl who played the one that Ginger Kid defended, the one Gómez tries to assault?” Gwen reminded her friends. “She’s a freshman too. Grace Dolezal-Ng.”
“She was great. The kid who played the green child prince, he was a freshman, too, right?” Eleanor asked. “He looked super young.”
“Sean Finnegan. He’s a baby-face,” Gwen said.
“He’s a stubborn little jerk, is what he is,” Dania said.
“That’s the character, not Sean.”
“Well, he played stubborn jerk well, I guess.”
“So many children!” Eleanor said. “They’re going to go do great things, I’m sure.”
“Like conquer Spain,” Dania said.
“They’re not going to conquer Spain,” Gwen said. “They didn’t even conquer Spain here, just part of it.”
“I don’t know,” Dania said. “I couldn’t tell what they were conquering, there were like two different governments at play, it was confusing.”
“There was a giant map of Spain on the set, how did you get lost?” Eleanor asked.
“I don’t know,” Dania continued. “Did it all take place in Fuente Ovejuna, or did the entire town vacate for the final scene? Is it a small uprising?”
“It’s symbolic,” Gwen explained.
“It’s confusing is what it is,” Dania said. “I got questions.”
“”I have questions on the final scene generally,” Eleanor said. “Like, why do the King and Queen just decide to forgive the entire town on the spot anyway? That felt like a longer conversation about murder and who the new Gómez is…”
“I was just wondering why they placed them in the audience,” Gwen responded. “They’d already set up the theatrical language of having them in those red boxes upstage, why change that so we can’t actually see their faces during the final scene?”
“And why couldn’t the Queen speak English?” Dania said.
“Oh, here we go, Gwen, real question,” Eleanor began. “What did you think of the final line from the girl at the very end? Like, after the end of the play…”
“Oh, the call to action that was just a call to action?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah, that one.”
“I thought it was a weird thing to throw onto the end of the play. Definitely not in the original text.”
“I thought you’d say that,” Eleanor said.
“What, you liked it?”
“I had no real opinion on it,” Eleanor said. “Certainly scared a lot of the white subscribers at the end. But it just sounded like something you’d hate.”
“Not hate, per se,” Gwen defended. “But when you do such a good job of making your point through narrative rather than direct language, why add on this little epilogue at the end that reiterates what they’ve already seen?”
“Because subscribers aren’t analyzing the plays for political messages every chance they get,” Dania suggested.
Gwen grumbled. “Okay, fair, but still…”
“I’m glad the girl got the final word, though, for certain,” Eleanor said. “She was one of the stronger actors in the show, for sure.”
“I don’t get why she never looked happy to be with Edward Tulane,” Dania stated.
“I think she only marries him so she doesn’t get married by Gómez,” Eleanor suggested. “I think, at least. I mean, he still assaults her, so…”
“The scar makeup in this show was good,” Gwen added, emphatically. “That’s never something that usually stands out, but it was really accurate looking. On Jacob Entenman’s wrists as well.”
“There was a lot of assault in the show, actually,” Dania pointed out. “Did they warn audiences about that?”
“Nnnnope. Not more than ‘mature content.’”
“Great. Good play about female empowerment.”
“I think it passed the Bechdel Test,” Eleanor said. “I started paying attention after the first scene was entirely about women being interested in men, but lost track. There must have been something in that all-female scene before the final fight, right?”
“No, I’m sure it passed,” Gwen said. “Generally, I had few major issues with it, aside from the placement of the King and Queen, that made no sense…”
“I was wondering what race the characters were supposed to be,” Dania said. “Like, they’re in Spain, right, but there were prominent Latinx actors in the play with accents, and Lead Girl and her friend had a very specific dialect in the first few scenes.”
“I’m not sure the modern language specifically connotes any racial background,” Gwen said. “Unless there’s one race defined by a constant overuse of the word ‘dude,’ because that certainly happened.”
“Noticed that,” Eleanor said. “Also, what exactly were the drums?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, like, I know they’re there for background and atmosphere and stuff, but sometimes they were playing during scenes, and sometimes not, and the two dudes were definitely dressed in modern clothes…”
“The two dudes?” Dania asked.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s basically new work,” Gwen said. “And I get the sense that Bowen and Alston might continue to edit it after this production is over. But small problems aside, I’m willing to praise it for the good things in it. There are plenty.”
“And lot of freshmen are getting to work in the department, always a plus,” Eleanor said.
“That’s who’s going to take over in three years,” Gwen said. “It’s the strange turnover of college campuses. Good to know they’re getting a head start now.”
“Hell, it’s their department,” Dania added. “Let ’em have control.”