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The Original review of Spain
By Dolores Whiskeyman
Jim Knable's new comedy at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, opens with the arresting image of a Spanish conquistador preening over his victories. Played with gusto by Christopher Lane, this Conquistador is a man after his time -- a cross between Cortez and Anthony Robbins.
It seems raping and pillaging does wonders for his self-confidence. Even his wife finds him sexy. "I LOVE myself!" he concludes happily.
Conquistador, we soon discover, is a product of one woman's imagination. Barbara (Emily Townley) has been summarily dumped by her husband (Andrew Ross Wynn) for a younger woman "with a boob job." Shortly after this, Conquistador arrives in her living room, with his heavy boots on her coffee table, a bloody sword at his side, and an expression of permanent contentment on his face.
Why is he there? Something to do with the machinations of a weird little guy called Ancient (Sarah Marshall), a kind of Mayan power figure who reappears as other characters -- Barbara's loathesome boss, a lawyer, and a psychiatrist. Initially it seems Conquistador is the outward expression of the fury Barbara internalizes into a depression that keeps her home in her bathrobe. Later, he becomes something else, something less than he appears to be.
Any woman who ever endured a nasty breakup can relate to this frolic. It's a funny play performed by some of Washington's best actors -- and for most of two hours, a pretty good time. Ultimately, though, Spain is a bit like an overheated love affair -- opening with great promise and ending badly. The fault is entirely the script's, for the production itself is as fine a package as one could hope to see.
Robin Stapley's set, with its desert hues and stairway morphing into a tree, offers a landscape in which the imagination rules supreme. Rosemary Pardee's costumes contribute to the sense of a dreamscape in which one person devolves into another. The cast is in top form -- Marshall and Lane are particularly engaging -- and the director is Woolly Associate Artistic Director Tom Prewitt, whose flair for the visual serves the play well.
Despite some rapid shifts in location, Prewitt manages to keep the movement fluid until the very end, when Knable takes his characters from the Spain of Barbara's imagination back to her living room. That's the only point where the scene shift becomes clumsy. But Prewitt cannot overcome the fundamental flaw of a text that drives towards such an unsatisfying end.
With such a strong set-up in Act One, Knable seems to have written himself into a corner. His first act concludes with Barbara moving to violence against the husband who wronged her. The presence of Ancient, Conquistador, a friend called Diversion (played with good humor by Katie Barrett), and a corpse that won't stay dead, all point to a world in which the story of a woman's vengeance and downfall is filtered through the fantasy she has created to embolden herself. Having marked out that road so vividly, Knable veers off it midway through the second act, taking his audience to a conclusion that disappoints because it fails to build effectively on the foundation he set down.
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