Dog in a Manger
A noblewoman falls for her secretary, but love across class boundaries offends her sense of honor so she jerks him around for three acts instead, blocking his other chances at romance like the dog in Aesop’s fable who can’t eat the hay he guards but won’t let the grazing animals at it, either.
Anyway, that’s what happens in the 17th-century comedy by de Vega, playwright and poet of the Spanish Golden Age. Palmer doesn’t so much translate the play as adapt it to his own purposes. Setting his version outside of time (fear of the Inquisition mingles with talk of iPods) and adopting a decidedly apocalyptic tone, Palmer follows de Vega’s basic outline but repeatedly goes off on noncomic tangents relating to such varied subjects as illusion, consumerism and the nature of history.
Some of these digressions relate to the original play; some seem oppressively imposed upon it. Too many arrive in the form of earnest, long-winded speeches and static dialogue that grow wearisome and repetitive. Palmer’s at his most effective when he doesn’t take himself or de Vega too seriously, as in his handling of the play’s clown, a blessedly unpretentious, foul-mouthed slacker (genially played by Gonring).
Secondary characters are also the best part of Palmer’s staging (which is set on and among stacks of red boxes, for some reason). In addition to Gonring, Kelly’s miles gloriosus blusters magnificently, and Thea Richard, as the hero’s backup lover, manages to ingratiate herself despite speaking exclusively in baby talk.