When Mildred’s Umbrella produced Charise Castro Smith’s Feathers and Teeth last season, it worked like a gateway drug. As soon as they finished that production, the company turned its eyes to another work by the same playwright: The Hunchback of Seville.
“When we read it out loud, it was hilarious,” says Jennifer Decker, Mildred’s executive director.
Hunchback is a satire on Spanish history and colonialism that opens this week in the Alley’s Neuhaus Theatre—a temporary location arranged after Mildred’s Chelsea Market landlords recently booted them to make way for more high-rise condos. Taking place just after the journey of Christopher Columbus to the so-called New World, the play is the story of Maxima Terriblé Segunda, the brilliant and adopted sister to the dying Queen Isabella of Spain. She’s spent most of her life locked away in a tower. Only now, it seems her country needs her particular brand of nerdy smarts. Navigating through prejudice, politics, and religion, Maxima pushes to bring Spain into the modern world.
“Smith deftly weaves together elements of classical renaissance comedy and punchy modern dialogue with a few particularly well-placed anachronisms,” says Director Philip Hays. “The result is a play wholly of our time, but aware of and playing around with tradition. It's full of wit and wordplay and physical humor. It was right up my alley.”
Hays says that audiences are sure to recognize some of the real players in history in the show, even as they learn about things they may not have known. He’s also convinced that the events from half a millennia ago will still resonate for modern audiences. Seattle’s The Stranger called the show “like 16th-century Spanish history as written by Quentin Tarantino…big, careening fun,” which should make it a must-see for those who love irreverent humor and a caustic take on historic events.
“It's been a surprise to discover that for all its farcical elements, the play is populated by characters with much more nuance and depth than the expected paper cutout stock character types,” says Hays about the process of bringing Hunchback to the stage. “The more we work on the play, and the more these smart, dedicated actors bring to their roles, the more I am struck by how real the characters feel and how much of us and our society they reflect."
He adds: “The saying goes, ‘It's funny because it's true,’ and I've found this wildly imaginative play to be chock full of both what's funny and what's true.”
March 28–April 6. Tickets pay-what-you-can (Suggested $25). Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave. 832-463-0409. More info and tickets at mildredsumbrella.com.