Desire is a very powerful force. For the prospect of sex or love, otherwise sane and stable people have been known to engage in the most ridiculous drama and petty games. No wonder psychologists say brain scans of people in love are nearly identical to those with mental illness.
Desire is a very powerful force. For the prospect of sex or love, otherwise sane and stable people have been known to engage in the most ridiculous drama and petty games.
No wonder psychologists say brain scans of people in love are nearly identical to those with mental illness.
This twisted path is captured well in Labyrinth of Desire, a recent translation of a Spanish play written in the 1600s by Lope De Vega now playing at Portland’s Miracle Theater.
A contemporary of Shakespeare, De Vega’s work has much in common with The Bard’s sex comedies such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It. De Vega’s play, however, manages to have more cross-dressing, false identities, love triangles and other Shakespearean hallmarks than any of Shakespeare’s works do.
The plot revolves around a couple, Florela and Alejandro. Alejandro has forsaken Florela to pursue Laura, the daughter of a duchess who is about to inherit her mother’s substantial estate. In this task, however, he has stiff competition from several other suitors. The Infante of Aragorn is a military man vying for Laura’s hand, while Paris is a society gent and personal favorite of the duchess.
Florela isn’t about to sit by and watch her lover abdicate to another, so she insinuates herself into Laura’s inner circle. She advises Laura about the many suitors pursuing her, with the aim to keep her away from Alejandro. And when all else fails, Florela tells Laura she is actually a man disguised as a woman who is in love with her.
Alejandro sees what Florela is doing and has his servant Camacho act as if he is a nobleman taken with Florela in order to move her away from Laura’s affairs. Camacho overplays his role as a member of the gentry with much hilarity, and shows more interest in Laura’s servant Finea than his intended target Florela.
Florela devises two final tests for the suitors. The first is a debate, the topic of which is: Are women equal to men in all respects? The second is a trip through the dark labyrinth on the property, with no lantern or candle. Nearly all the men get horribly lost in the labyrinth, except for one who sneaks in a candle.
The play ends with a series of couplings that are unexpected and interesting.
The actors, who are nearly all Portland State students, make excellent work of their characters. The PSU connection makes sense because acting professor Devon Allen is Labyrinth‘s director.
Clara Weisham, who has not been seen in such a large acting role recently, handles the character of Laura with great humor and appeal. Jamie M. Rea, one of the few non-students, also handles the main character of Florela quite well.
Prolific student-actor Dennis Kelly holds his own in his role as Alejandro, while constantly struggling against becoming upstaged by supporting characters. Fellow student Alex Fox handles the loudest of these characters, Camacho, nearly perfectly. Students Hans Eleveld, Jennifer Rowe and Joshua Spencer also bring distinctively memorable characterizations to roles on the periphery of the play.
For a work written during the Renaissance, Labyrinth of Desire seems especially fitting for today. As such, the production is set in the present where gender-bending issues, sexual politics, feminism and queerness are all dealt with in a rather direct manner. Although the play ends with a series of marriages, or at least couplings, the issue of marriage also receives the critical treatment (including an oblique reference to gay marriage).
This play’s story may be convoluted, but is nonetheless easy to follow, as is a labyrinth, actually. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth twists and turns but contains no wrong paths. If you keep on going, you are bound to reach the center.
That, perhaps, is the lesson in Labyrinth of Desire. As disheartening as the twists and turns of love can sometimes be, they are all a part of the path to our own center.
Labyrinth of Desire continues through the end of the month on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for everyone else. Miracle Theatre is located at 425 S.E. Sixth Ave. For more info see www.milagro.org.