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A CurtainUpReview
Spain at MCC
by Jenny Sandman

(l-r) Annabella Sciorra, Lisa Kron and Michael Aronov in a scene from MCC Theater's Spain
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
In a spiffy new production at MCC Theater, Spain has still not overcome the script problems of its earlier DC run. While it's a fine production, with terrific actors, the second act isn't anywhere near as good as the first and leads the play to a very unsatisfying and slightly ludicrous ending.

Annabella Sciorra as Barbara manages to walk a fine line between believable desperation and completely implausible madness. Her descent into her fantasy world unravels the play, turning the first act's strong and interesting characters into mere foils and her active imagination into lunacy. It's a shame, as the first act is something—the Conquistador (played to absolute perfection by Michael Aronov) and the Ancient (Lisa Kron) are two of the funniest and most intriguing characters I've run across in some time. But they, too, disintegrate in the second act, as do their performances.

Still, the first act is worth seeing by itself, and the set by Beowulf Boritt, while occasionally banal, is also frequently breathtaking.

While the DC production reviewed by Dolores Whiskeyman featured a different team, the play's the same—and I agree with the earlier evaluation which is included below the MCC production notes.

Written by Jim Knable
Directed by Jeremy Dobrish
With Michael Aranov (Conquistador), Veanne Cox (Diversion), Erik Jensen (John), Lisa Kron (Ancient) and Annabella Sciorra (Barbara)
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission
MCC Theater, 121 Christopher Street; 212-279-4200
From 10/10/07; opening 10/30/07; closing 11/17/07.
Performance schedule: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets are $60.
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman 11/02/07

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.

by < Jim Knable
Directed by Tom Prewitt
with Emily Townley, Katie Barrett, Christopher Lane, Sarah Marshall and Andrew Ross Wynn
Set Design: Robin Stapley
Costume Design: Rosemary Pardee
Lighting Design: Lisa L. Ogonowski
Sound Design: Dave McKeever
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in residence at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Opened 12/16/01, closes 1/6/02
Telephone (202) 467-4600. ($10 tickets for people 25 and under, call 202-393-3939) Reviewed by Dolores Whiskeyman based on a 12/15 performance.
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