When you’re working on a Spanish play written 400 years ago, set 200 years before, there’s always the question of why?
Why this play?
Does it still have anything to say?
In the case of Fuente Ovejuna, the answer isn’t just yes. It’s more sinister than that. A little bit more terrifying, a little bit more disturbing. Because to be frank, especially in the last few weeks, the themes, questions and storylines of this play are ringing true in ways I wish they wouldn’t.
Felix Lope de Vega wrote Fuente Ovejuna in the early 1600s.
His epic tale of revolution and rebellion is based on a true story: in 1476 the villagers of Fuente Ovejuna in Castile rose up against a commander from the Order of Calatrava who had been abusing them. When asked who had killed the commander, the villagers, under pain of torture replied, ‘Fuente Ovejuna did it.’
In Lope de Vega’s story, the Commander serves as the ultimate example of leaders abusing their power.
He plunders the town, committing horrific acts of violence and sexual assault. He forces his own will upon the people of Fuente Ovejuna because he operates from a position of privilege and power that allows him to believe he will face no consequences. He thinks women are his for the taking because they are there.
And so, of course, it is the women of the town who refuse to be silent.
Rather than the town’s elders, it is a young woman called Laurencia who forces Fuente Ovejuna to take action. She makes a call to arms that cannot be ignored. She is a voice the demands attention; her rage cannot be quashed.
Since starting rehearsals for Dream Planes Production’s adaptation of Fuente Ovejuna, I have watched world politics mirror the themes of this play in striking and unmissable ways. But even more so over the past few weeks, as incredibly brave women are standing up to tell stories of sexual assault that involve some of the most powerful men in Australia.
As I see the news unfolding, as I watch our leaders dismiss allegations of sexual assault, as women’s trauma is silenced and minimised, I am placed upon that all too familiar knife’s edge: to fall into despair, or to fall into rage.
But what I am learning, as I see the women around me respond to our parliament, and as I watch the wonderful women on stage in this production, is that it’s a misstep to say we fall. We do not fall into rage, we lift. It is the rage I see around me that demands action. It is a movement, a wrenching free, a shaking off.
In Fuente Ovejuna, a woman’s rage flips the status quo. Characters like Laurencia are teaching me how to stoke my rage. Women like Grace Tame are teaching me how to keep making noise. To quote her powerful Australian Press Club Speech:
“It is our time. We need to take this opportunity. We need to be bold and courageous. Recognise we have a platform on which I stand with you in solidarity and support. Share your truth, it is your power. One voice, your voice, and our collective voices can make a difference. We are on the precipice of a revolution whose call to action needs to be heard loud and clear.”
Fuente Ovejuna, the 400-year-old story, asks and answers a question: Who in the history of the world ever put an end to their rulers?
I’m pretty sure the answer is, and will continue to be, women.
Fuente Ovejuna! plays at Flight Path Theatre, Marrickville from March 25-April 11.