The Dog in the Manger
Plays from the golden age of Spanish drama are not familiar on American stages, but they will become much better known if they are presented in productions as good as the one of Lope de Vega's The Dog in the Manger, now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington.
Lope de Vega was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and this comedy of manners, translated and adapted by David Johnston and ably directed by Jonathan Munby, has a similar humanistic viewpoint and sparkling wit. The underlying theme is the conflict between genuine love and the constraints of class and "honor."
Diana (Michelle Hurd), Countess of Belflor, is an unusual woman of her time in that she has money and social position, but no father or brother to dominate her life. Although she is besieged by foolish suitors, she has an ambivalent desire for her secretary, Teodoro (Michael Hayden), who is himself romancing Diana's lady-in-waiting Marcela (Miriam Silverman). The title compares Diana to the dog in Aesop's fable who, while sitting in a manger full of hay, will not permit other animals to eat but also won't eat the hay himself.
While the entire cast is strong, the best performances are in two supporting roles: David Turner as Teodoro's scheming servant Tristan and Jonathan Hammond as the self-regarding Marquess Ricardo. Both of them get substantial chances to show off: Turner, for reasons of the plot, masquerades in turn as a vicious assassin and a zany Greek trader, and Hammond embodies the character of a nobleman who believes he's entitled to marry Diana by virtue of his sheer awesomeness. Singer Julie Craig adds another dimension to the drama with her intermittent appearances.
Hurd gives a magnetic performance as a woman faced, for probably the first time, with a temptation that threatens her self-possession. Hayden stands up to her ably as a would-be lover who can't tell, from one moment to the next, exactly what's going on. Another standout is the reliable David Sabin, who has two opportunities to serve as slightly addled voices of reason.
Alexander Dodge has created a richly layered scenic design of latticework walls and hidden spaces, highlighted by Matthew Richards' textured lighting design. Linda Cho's costumes range from Diana's severe dresses to the vibrant colors worn by the suitors and the disguised Tristan.
Shakespeare Theatre Company