Melchor falls in love with a mysterious, completely-veiled lady outside a cathedral. Magdalena, the veiled lady, is similarly smitten by him.
Later, Melchor fulfils a prior obligation to rendezvous with an Internet connection. She turns out to be none other than Magdalena herself. Melchor, however, not realizing that Magdalena and the veiled lady are one and the same person, is less than impressed with her this time. Magdalena who, of course, recognizes Melchor immediately as the dashing suitor from the cathedral, becomes consumed with jealousy at the thought that her beloved is in love with someone else—her!
Inspired by Tirso de Molina’s Jealous of Herself, Henry Ong’s The Blade of Jealousy sets this ingenious madcap comedy of disguise and deception in modern-day Los Angeles.
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Notes from the playwright
Sometime last year, I was honored to be asked by theater doyen Jon Lawrence Rivera to participate in Golden Tongues, a Playwrights’ Arena/UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library project. The aim of the annual project is to introduce audiences to the treasures of the Golden Age of Spanish theater. Participating Los Angeles playwrights are tasked with researching 16th– and 17th-century plays from Spain (between 1590 to 1681) and choosing one for adaptation in a modern context.
As I pondered over which play to select, I was struck by the sheer volume and variety of Spanish Renaissance plays that had been written and produced during the Golden Age. Who knew! The number surpassed even those written during the English Renaissance (according to Wikipedia by a factor of four!). About ten thousand plays are estimated to have been written; the number of surviving plays is in the hundreds, a majority of which remain virtually untouched in terms of both production and scholarly analysis. Golden Tongues and UCLA’s “Diversifying the Classics” initiative are an attempt to promote the plays among English-language audiences. The website is http://diversifyingtheclassics.humanities.ucla.edu/
After poring through dozens of synopses, I stumbled across Tirso de Molina’s La celosa de sí misma (Jealous of Herself). Its lively plot, fascinating characters and relentless wit immediately captured my imagination. Melchor falls in love with a mysterious veiled lady (Magdalena) in a cathedral simply from a glimpse of her hand. This places undue pressure on the lady in question who—when pursued by Melchor in a different setting—must live up to the idealized woman that he has conjured in his imagination. Melchor, of course, does not realize that Magdalena and the veiled lady are one and the same person; as a result, Magdalena becomes jealous of herself! What a delicious setup!
And how utterly relevant today is the issue of self-image and identity! Can we ever live up to the idea of perfection foisted on us through the media? When we are bombarded by society’s notions of the standards of beauty, is it any wonder that we are continually dissatisfied with what nature has given us? Why do we continue to crave and seek to attain idealized versions of our physical selves?
Finally, a word about the playwright, Tirso de Molina (1579-1648). He was a Baroque dramatist, poet and Catholic monk who wrote four hundred plays, of which only eighty still exist today. Perhaps his most famous play is El burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville), which is considered the original Don Juan play.
I hope this adaptation will whet your appetite to investigate the rich heritage of the Spanish Golden Age plays. Jon Lawrence Rivera, UCLA Professor Barbara Fuchs and I would be immensely pleased. Please enjoy this madcap comedy, the core of which reiterates the universal truth that beauty is but skin-deep.