Seeing a play is a lovely way to break routine, fitting nicely into my quest to slow down. When we were kids, mum would take us to the theatre in London (allow me the indulgence of the British spelling), to see plays by my granny’s favorite writer, Agatha Christie. I’ve loved plays ever since, so I was delighted when my daughter took me for an early birthday treat to see Peribanyez, performed by Quantum Theater (American spelling, I’ll concede) in Mellon Park, Pittsburgh.
I didn’t know what to expect from the story. The playwright, Lope de Vega, was a contemporary of Shakespeare. This was a good start, because I’d missed my summer dose of Shakespeare by Band of Brothers in Johnstown.
The show begins on such a happy note, dancing, singing, love and a future burning bright, I spent the first ten minutes smiling out loud. The beautiful Casilda and Peribanyez, the man who gives the play its name, are celebrating their wedding day, comparing each other to fine wine, food, flowers and all things wonderful in profuse declarations of love eternal. Everything points to happy ever after, until a bull ransacks the park behind us, a bad omen heralding the arrival of the Governor. He, too, falls helplessly in love with Casilda. Like a reverse fairy tale, happiness turns to strife as Peribanyez and the Governor fight it out for Casilda’s attention. They going to ever greater lengths, until they’ve past the point of no return.
All hope gone, happiness obliterated, the ending is a tragedy in the deepest sense of the word. Hope not even a glimmer. The somber realization that all was lost perhaps robbed the cast of more hearty applause than they certainly deserved. But how can you applaud heartily for Casilda’s total losses after she had opened her heart to us with such conviction and real tears? And Peribanyez, a stunning performer, her husband, who had so convincingly intended to adore Casilda forever, only to have carried out terrible and unexpected deeds. She, nor we, will ever be able to forgive him.
We left the park somber, appalled at the tragic ending, but the story stuck with me for days. The tragedy was absolute, I can’t recall a play that spiraled downward so resolutely.
It took me a few days to unravel a useful message from it all, a few days distracted from routine, when time seemed to slow. The play was unexpected, it was different, and even though it was different in a heart-rending way, it was somehow invigorating to be reminded that a little difference opens the doors of possibility. Not everything has to happen the same way. The realization is empowering, which, I suppose, in a convoluted and odd kind of way, is in itself a happy ending.