The Madrid-based Rakatá brought "Henry VIII/Enrique VIII" to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica last weekend, and the company applied its extensive experience with Spanish Golden Age classics to the staging of Shakespeare's seldom revived history play.
The result was a production that had the speed of Lope de Vega, the refinement of Calderón and just enough slippery ambiguity to remind us that this was indeed a Shakespearean foray.
Scholars are still debating whether Shakespeare wrote "Henry VIII" solo or in collaboration, but the sordid saga — adultery mixed with church-state double-dealing — continues to exert its peculiar hold on modern audiences.
This Spanish-language adaptation (performed with projected English scene summations) focused our attention on the conflicting personalities and their Machiavellian maneuverings. The sprawl was cut back, the momentum accelerated, yet the heartbreak of Catherine of Aragon (a fiercely gripping Elena González) was given new weight.
Directed by Ernesto Arias, the production (presented by Fudación Siglo de Oro) was performed without intermission. The actors, breathless yet precise, hit their marks like expert marksmen. Awash in commanding voices and expressive faces, the ensemble had no trouble sustaining dramatic tension, with Fernando Gil's Henry VIII and Jesús Fuente's Cardinal Wolsey anchoring the pitched battle for power between the throne and Rome.
Rafael Díez-Labín's lighting bathed the stage in golden hues, an appropriate touch for a work that adeptly bridged the aesthetics of classical Spanish and Jacobean theater.