Raul Galoppe, Montclair State University
Dave Dalton, Director of Quinnopolis Theater
“Adapting Comedia in New York”

2009 ATHE home * Translation Strageties * Reception Strategies * Dramaturgical Strategies

In 2006 the theater company Quinnopolis staged their version of Lope de Vega’s The Dog in the Manger in a production directed by Dave Dalton that Time Out, New York praised, “an evening of devious entertainment.” This successful adaptation proves that, despite temporal and spatial transpositions, a play from the Spanish Golden Age can still be very popular on a contemporary New York stage, reaching beyond time, space, and cultural differences. This presentation examines Quinnopolis’s The Dog in the Manger together with its current project, the adaptation of Tirso de Molina’s Don Gil of the Breeches Green. We approach the topic from a unique double perspective, that of the company’s director and that of the critic bridging the gap between text and reception. First we look into the directorial use of specific techniques, such as text manipulation, song insertion, metatheatrical triangulation, and the incorporation of puppets to achieve distance and defamiliarization. Secondly, we revisit modified portions of the plays from a critical perspective that takes into account the malleability of the text and the effects of its transposition into a different context. By establishing a comparison between Lope’s and Tirso’s original plays and Dalton’s adaptations for the stage, we expect to open a conversation regarding the possibilities of classical Spanish theater in the 21st century.

Adaptation Thoughts from Director Dave Dalton

What are the differences between my version of Dog in the Manger and the original? It seems to me there are a couple of categories I could explore. First, characters. I cut a number of characters, including Dorotea and Anarda, Diana's ladies in waiting. Now Diana's only servants are Marcella and Fabio, who has taken on some of the lines, character traits, and functions of Otavio, who I cut as well. Outside of Diana's household, I cut Celio and Leonido, the lackeys of Diana's two suitors, Ricardo and Federico. I also cut Camilo, the servant to Ludivico, and changed Ludivico into a non-speaking role. The remaining characters for the play are Teodoro, Tristan, Diana, Marcella, Fabio, Ricardo, Federico, and Ludivico. I considered these to be the essential characters since they move the plot forward and are the subject of the remaining action. Reducing the number of characters makes each of these roles more significant, as the action of the play rests on fewer heads. I believe this makes the play easier for a contemporary audience to follow, especially those unfamiliar with Golden Age Comedia and the social status of 17th Century Spanish nobility.

The second area of difference between my version and the original is the use of popular music in the production to replace the frequent use of letters in the script. Since Teodoro is a secretary to Diana, a key plot point of the original is her request for Teodoro to write a letter for her friend who has fallen in love with an inferior. Through this subterfuge, Diana begins to reveal her interest in Teodoro and suggests that he should forget social conventions and try to win her. One of my guiding principles in adapting the script for a contemporary audience was to emphasize the considerable action in the play, and this device of the letter, which is later repeated as he she writes a reply to his letter, seemed to me to be a beautiful opportunity for poetry but a boring opportunity for staging. I do not think poetry and contemporary performance are mutually exclusive, but in the case of this action-packed comedic romp, it felt like a misstep. In the adaptation, I had the characters speak about writing the letters in a similar way to the original, but instead of reciting them for the audience, I staged a dream-like moment designed to reveal the underlying meaning of each letter in a love song.

The third area of difference is in the casting choices. I chose to portray the remaining characters of this story with only three actors, a musician and two puppets. I wanted to reflect the love triangle at the center of the play through the casting, so I began with the idea of three actors each portraying one of the principles of the triangle: Teodoro, Marcella, and Diana. Knowing that the actors would have to be double cast, I looked for ways that these casting choices could deepen an audience's appreciation of the play. Marcella desires Teodoro and turns to Fabio as an attempt to make him jealous. Therefore. casting the same actor as both Fabio and Teodoro allows the audience to see the connection between these two men in Marcella's mind. Teodoro is a pure recipient of Marcella's desire and Fabio becomes a sort of shadow, played by the same actor with thick glasses, an altered voice, and a hat covering his head. In a reflexive way, the chief critic of Teodoro dumping Marcella and pursuing Diana is Tristan. So it only made sense to draw a meta-theatrical connection between Tristan and Marcella and have the same actor portray them both, the two characters who want Teodoro to stick with his own social class and marry Marcella. Out of the remaining characters, there is a connection between Diana, Ricardo, and Federico, since their desire for her gives Diana her essential identity as an unattainable and independent woman. Since Diana is fiercely proud of her independence, I wanted to find a way for her to portray her two suitors. In the production, I used two Ken doll puppets and made the actress playing Diana their puppeteer. In this way, Diana's status as beautiful and sought-after, can be seen as a function of her own fantasy, something she must invent to justify her fantasy identity. Also, having her portray the suitors helps show that a part of her also wants Teodoro to die, since she must portray the suitors later plot to murder him. Lastly, since Ludivico is clearly recognizable as a device that allows Teodoro to attain a higher social status and marry Diana, it seemed uninteresting to develop him fully as a character in the staging. I staged this scene by having Tristan describe the idea of Ludivico and then create the character to fulfill this social need by kidnapping the production’s musician, putting an obviously fake beard on him, and introducing him as Ludivico. However, since Ludivico does not speak and is only onstage long enough so that Tristan can prove his existence, this staging choice helps to illustrate Lope's device and answer any lingering questions from the original about whether Teodoro might be Ludivico's son: he clearly cannot be, since we see Tristan invent the story and the character.

Fourth, I changed the ending so that Diana and Teodoro seemed trapped together, rather than free to express their love, as in the original. One of the things that originally drew me to Dog in the Manger is how ruthless Teodoro and Diana are in pursuing their desires, and how often they change those desires. Teodoro runs back to Marcella multiple times when he is unsure of Diana's feelings, and Diana seems to realistically consider the possibility of having Teodoro killed very early in the play. However, as the end of the play approaches, Lope softens this ruthlessness and asks his audience to believe a true love has developed between Diana and Teodoro. The original ending leaves Marcella stuck with Fabio, but it seems audience are intended to believe that Teodoro and Diana, in spite of their cruelty to one another, honestly do love one another. I chose instead to keep the cynicism and shallow desire of the first part of the play. Teodoro and Diana end up together, but in my adaptation, it's clear that their desires were more excited by the chase than by possessing one another. They are allowed to marry by the conceit of Tristan's invention of Teodoro's long-lost, noble father Ludivico. However, because we clearly see Tristan invent the character, we also understand how in the adaptation he is able to blackmail both Teodoro and Diana. In this version the lovers are stuck with one another and unable to move on, since Tristan knows their secret and threatens to expose them unless they continue to make him rich.