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Dog in the Manger

By Lope de Vega

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 2/9/2005

Dog in the Manger is a clever, energetic, one-liner-filled look at class, love, and what it really means to want what you canít have. For the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, itís an ambitious choice: written not by Shakespeare but by his Spanish contemporary, Lope de Vega, one of Spainís most renowned playwrights, who has little name recognition in the States.

It was clearly a risk worth taking. Dog in the Manger is the sort of everything-that-can-go-wrong-does love story that sitcom fans and 16th-century theater nerds canít get enough of. The play centers on Diana, the icy and proper widowed Countess of Belflor. When she discovers that her secretary, Teodoro, has been courting her lady-in-waiting, Marcela, Diana realizes she is in love with him. But it is a love that cannot be, because Teodoro is her inferior. Of course, that doesnít stop her from messing with Teodoroís mind by letting him in on her feelings. Teodoro then throws over Marcela and begins fantasizing about becoming a count. But Diana only has two temperaturesówhite hot, when Teodoro wants to be with Marcela, and ice cold, when he wants Diana to upset her life so they can be together.

Teresa Castracane, the first professional actor to grace a CSC production, does an excellent job as Diana, making her fierce, brilliant, completely controlled, and horribly lost from one moment to the next. Scott Graham runs through the many moods of the fickle Teodoro with ease, and Valerie Fentonís quirky but savvy portrayal of Marcela nearly steals the show. Jeff Tremper (pictured) plays Teodoroís servant Tristan, a Shakespearean-style fool who is the smartest one in the group. His delivery is excellent, but he gives his character overly stylized movements that make him seem more lizard than man.

Luscious period costumes by Kristina Lambdin and a pleasantly simple set provide an excellent backdrop for the production. And director Isabelle Anderson makes great use of the space and keeps the action moving at a canter.

But the showís real star is the new translation, which premieres here, by recent Johns Hopkins University graduate and CSC player Bob Alleman. Feeling that the existing translations of de Vegaís work were too stuffy and British, Alleman created his own. The result is clever, natural, and colloquial without losing the playís classical style. He only oversteps his bounds once, with a reference to Prozac that rang through the theater like an off-key note.

Modern sensibilities may find the ending a bit unsatisfying, but the combination of outstanding words and excellent performances makes this a production you will be thinking about long after youíve left the theater.

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