PVPA play tackles social issues from 17th-century Spain

Date Published: 
December 7, 2018
Greta Jochem
News Type: 
SOUTH HADLEY — This weekend, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School is also taking on social issues in its performance of “Fuente Ovejuna.”
Written by Lope de Vega in the 1600s and set in Spain, the play is about a military commander who sexually assaults a young woman, Laurencia. When the town does nothing, the women band together and kill the commander. The town resolves to not reveal what happened when questioned by the king and queen of Spain.
The play gives viewers the perspective of a variety of people, said Banti Jaswal, an actor in the production. “You get into the mind of the perpetrator, those abused and everyone around them and how they deal with the pain and suffering,” she said.
Jennifer Onopa, a teacher and director of the play, proposed the production over the summer in reaction to the #MeToo movement.
“I believe that during moments of social crisis or transformation, such as we have been experiencing with the current #MeToo movement, artists have an opportunity to respond,” Onopa wrote in her director’s note that will appear in the show’s program.
The student actors were struck by the similarities between what happened in a 400-year-old play and today.
“It was extremely progressive for the time in which is was written,” Kalyani Kortright, a student and actor said. “But also the issues that were looked over in the play are still happening today.”
“When we started to rehearse the play,” student actor Reyna Ortiz said, “we had a bunch of conversations not only about the #MeToo movement but also just about what was going on and how relevant it was to this day.”
Though the play takes on serious issues, Kortright sees the show as being healing for some.
“I believe acting out these roles and portraying these roles in theater can be an immense healing for those who’ve experienced assault,” she said.
Jaswal said in the past, she’s felt uncomfortable with how classes talk about sexual assault.
In the show though, the women leave her feeling empowered. “The lengths they go to to achieve justice is inspirational,” she said.
“Fuente Ovejuna” is running on Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.