For a moment, my stomach hurt from laughing and tears rolled down my cheeks. For a moment, I questioned everything that I’d learned from media, and Fox News was called out on its propaganda-producing bullshit. For a moment, I considered how senseless it is that politicians use the banner of religion to justify genocide. For a moment, I felt like I was at a church service that got it right. For a moment, the main character necked a coconut. Through the entire performance, I was entertained.
Washington Ensemble Theater’s world premier of “The Hunchback of Seville” went off without a hitch. Written by Charise Castro Smith and directed by Jen Wineman, the provocative and relevant play marries hilarity with the horrors of colonialism that sculpted present-day America. You’ll laugh, you’ll think “Oh shit,” and then you’ll laugh some more.
Set in 1504, the plot stars a progressive hunchback, Maxima, adopted by the ill Queen of Spain. The queen urges Maxima to help her deranged sister, Infanta Juana, lead the country after she dies, but Maxima is an atheist and Spain is a Catholic nation. Genocide, housemaids, and her sexy boyfriend, Talib, influence Maxima’s final decision and expose religious and worldly ambition’s not so dissimilar roots.
The world-class troupe that gives life to the script includes Samie Detzer as the starring hunchback, Maxima, and Libby Barnard as her psychotic sister and princess, Infanta Juana. Rose Cano, the maid Espanta, has a special relationship with the audience, and Benito Vasquez as Abdul Haseeb does an accent that’s hard to forget. Maria Knox is a convincing Queen Isabella, who holds tight to the Voice of God, played by Maximillian Davis. WET members Ali el-Gassier and Leah Salcido Pfenning fill the roles of Talib and a devout, orphan maid, while Devin Bannon rounds off the cast as Christopher Columbus and later as Deputy Eduardo.
“We read the script two Decembers ago, in 2012, and fell in love immediately,” Bannon told The Capitol Hill Times. “It hit a lot of things that are our normal criteria. We’re always looking for shows that have big casts, that are or can be diverse, that feature more opportunities for women, including characters and playwright. And we’re looking for premiers and things that are fun for us. We were like ‘Oh my god, this is matching on every single level.’”
Bannon also said that working with Wineman and Castro Smith was “a dream,” and that Castro Smith was making changes to the script as the rehearsing went along, which is clear in the to-the-minute cultural references.
“Depending on who you are and what you bring as an audience member, you’ll see different things. The play says things about race, gender, power, and everything included in colonialism is touched upon,” Bannon said. “If you’re looking for one certain thing, you’re going to see that. The person sitting next to you might see something different. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not so literal or so specific, so it can hit on so many things without becoming stale.”
And, it’s the last show being preformed at the theater’s cozy spot on 19th Avenue East. Though the members have events planned for the fall, WET’s next feature will show in January in the 12th Avenue Arts building.
“It’s a lot more work than you might imagine. Moving out is no small potatoes. We have been in the space for 10 years, and it’s kind of like 12 people living in a house for 10 years,” Bannon said.
The 12th Avenue Arts building will house two performance salles, one with 80 seats, the other with 140 seats, shared between three theater group. Alongside WET will be Strawberry Theater Workshop and New Century Theater Company.
Bannon said that WET’s hope was to end its time at its current, little space on a high note.
“We wanted to end on something that’s like a celebration that offers as many options for Ensemble members as possible, that’s fun, that’s summery, that sends us off in the right celebratory feeling.”
“The Hunchback of Seville” does exactly that for WET, just as it does the audience.
“The Hunchback of Seville” will show Thursdays through Mondays at 7:30 p.m. through June 30. Tickets cost $15 – $20 and are available at the door or in advance at www.washingtonensemble.org. WET is located at 608 19th Avenue East.