Wild Thing Pits Gila Against the World
“Wild Thing” is a play originally written in Spanish in 1613 by Luis Velez de Guevara, and tonight I saw the first time it’s ever been performed in English on stage at Rand Theater at UMass.
Director Gina Kaufmann had a wild script to work with, and although the circular stage was bare of sets, the 1400s era costumes radiantly brought the audience back to that era of dashing, swashbuckling men with swords, and a strong woman who carries a long musket and points it at anyone who gets in her way.
Gila’s character, played by Catherine Newell, an actor who identifies as a ‘they’ versus a ‘her,’ is truly both a man and a woman, displaying both a man’s strength with her sword and the passion and grace of a vulnerable woman.
Gila is this powerhouse at the center of it all, short mannish hairstyle, and a flowing dress to go with the big old musket carried on her shoulder.
The dialogue and the lyrics when the women paraded around declaring that they had been assaulted brought the play to the present day…but then when I heard Catherine Newell recite the poignant translation, we bounced back to the 1400s.
Gila is famous for killing her lovers–or men who attempt to become her lovers, by hurling them off a cliff to their deaths. Gila is an enigma, a man/woman character who lures them in, but crushes each man like a bug.
I couldn’t get over the amount of dialogue that Newell memorized; long speeches and passionate soliloquies about her forced marriage to the officer who demands to allow his troops to stay in her father’s house. When she turns him away, you know that there’s trouble brewing, just feel the sharp tip of that pike he carries.
The story was complex but the actors all did a stellar job sticking to their complicated, translated lines, and it was all done with real gusto and passion.
The translation made every word seem more important. When the heroine/hero finally dies as we know she/he had to do, she passes to the back of the stage into a column of light, a well-thought-out touch that takes her away peacefully as if she was called to heaven.
This play was presented in one 90-minute block, with no intermission. This kept the pace flowing, and each of the cast members did triple duty keeping up their enthusiastic pace the entire show.
Many are tossed to their deaths but it’s not too violent for a thoughtful teen who might just learn something from this work written in the 1600s.
Wild Thing, translated by Harley Erdman, Directed by Gina Kaufmann. At the Rand Theater, Fine Arts Center Umass at 7:30 pm. Saturday, Feb 16, Thursday, Feb 21, Friday, Feb 22, Sat Feb 23 matinee at 2 pm and 7:30 pm