About that temperature check — yes, you read that right: We’re talking about live, indoor performance. GALA is one of a handful of organizations selected for a D.C. pilot project in which live-entertainment venues submit and execute detailed operating plans and undergo monitoring by the city.
Just to name a few of GALA’s safety steps, a maximum of 25 tickets — or 9 percent of house capacity — are sold for each performance, allowing mask-wearing patrons to easily social distance. The first two rows stay empty, significantly distancing cast from audience. And GALA’s newly revamped HVAC system, now with high-efficiency filters, turns the air over at least six times an hour. Wearing an N95 mask and glasses, in lieu of my regular contact lens, I felt reasonably calm during the 90-minute intermission-less show, performed in Spanish with English surtitles.
For added reassurance, there’s designer Clifton Chadick’s pavilion set, with its transparent plexiglass walls. This scenic construct essentially places all the actors behind an epic sneeze guard. But the pavilion has artistic merit, too. It looks terrific — wrought-iron-style pillars, checkerboard floor — and resonates thematically, seeming to sum up the play’s musings about private life used for public power and show.
Public show is important to Diana (Soraya Padrao), a highhanded countess who develops feelings for her secretary, Teodoro (Ariel Texidó), after she learns that he’s courting household servant Marcela (Catherine Nunez). Too ashamed to start a romance with a social inferior, Diana nevertheless spitefully scuttles her underlings’ relationship and harasses Teodoro with on-again, off-again coquetry. Meanwhile, Diana’s noble-born suitors (Delbis Cardona and Oscar Ceville, swanning about in farcical-ninny mode) conspire to maintain class hierarchy, and Teodoro’s servant Tristán (Carlos Castillo) hatches his own clever plan.
Often seen standing regal and alone, as others do her bidding, Padrao’s glamorous Diana is the heart of this nicely acted production. Through soliloquys and subtly brooding expressiveness, she allows glimpses of interior torment. Still, it’s impossible to overlook the countess’s cruelty, which leaves Teodoro conflicted and Marcela distressed — as is abundantly clear from Texidó’s and Nunez’s deft showcasing of emotion. At one point, when Diana has abruptly spurned Teodoro, Tristán urges him to make up with the irate Marcela. Peering around a door, Tristán signals to his boss with frantic gestures that say “Grovel!” It’s one of the show’s funniest sequences, but the humor doesn’t eclipse our awareness of the servants’ suffering.
If comedy often vies with seriousness in this “El Perro del Hortelano,” the production values stay buoyant, with bursts of pop music and candy-colored lighting (David Crandall designed the sound and Alberto Segarra, the lighting). Jeannette Christensen does a smashing job with the costumes, whose cuts, and deliberately flashy patterns, filter 17th-century aristocratic grandeur through a modern lens. Status consciousness is a terrible trap, but in this show, it’s a very good-looking one.
El Perro del Hortelano (The Dog in the Manger), by Lope de Vega, adapted by Paco Gámez. Directed by José Zayas; properties design, Tony Koehler. With Luz Nicolás. About 90 minutes. In Spanish with English surtitles (English translation, Heather McKay). $30-$45. Through Nov. 22 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. 202-234-7174. galatheatre.org.