by Caridad Svich
freely adapted from Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor’s comedy La Traicion en la amistad (approx. 1628-1632)
Approximately three hundred and seventy years before Sex and the City, there was Maria Zayas de Sotomayor’s La traicion en la amistad. It offers a rare theatrical glimpse into the life of upper-class women in the 17th century. Love’s treason – its blessed and cursed treachery on our inviolate hearts – is the focus of this play. The machinations and inconsistencies of love and its pursuit along with love’s enchanting traicion destabilizes the vision that we carry of ourselves and instead offers us the un-fixed possibilities of who we can be. A little betrayal among friends, is Caridad Svich’s loving new rendering based on Zayas’ intentions.
Originally commissioned by Airmid Theatre, New York, (Tricia McDermott, Artistic Director), with support from Open Meadows Foundation and New York State Council of the Arts.
Full-length in two-acts. Fluid setting. Cast: 3 women, 4 men.
By Caridad Svich
Approximately three hundred and seventy years before Sex and the City, there was Maria Zayas de Sotomayor’s La traicion en la amistad. An esteemed, popular novelist during the Spanish Golden Age, Zayas also wrote poems, essays and several plays before withdrawing from a life in letters. La traicion…(likely completed in 1632) however is her only extant play. As such, it offers a rare theatrical glimpse into the life of upper-class women in the 17th century. While Zayas follows the conventions that friendly colleague Lope de Vega and others of the period made to the comedia and its form – compact, swift, and bound by themes of love and honor – Zayas differs in La traicion… by revolving her plot around circuitous patterns of behavior rather than elements of chance, destiny and design. She keeps establishing conventional modes of action and then subverting them for other concerns, chief of which is the exposure and ridicule of her male lead Liseo – a slippery-tongued, late-blooming misogynist, and her female anti-heroine Fenisa – a sexually free playgirl (in a pre-AIDS society). Zayas has mixed feelings for all her characters, if not a dose of compassion. Clearly she wants to empower Fenisa and unbind her from the standards of honor and virtue, but at the same time, she is conflicted by Fenisa’s lack of moral conscience, especially in regard to her friendships with other women. The play circles around comic sequences that center on the expectation of love (amorous and platonic) and its betrayal, whether overt or indirect. Zayas, therefore, is contemplating how betrayal is possibly an inevitable part of opening your heart to another, be it friend, lover or stranger. It is not a sweet sentiment, and indeed, the upper-class circle that Zayas depicts is predominantly cruel, and cousin to the more Machiavellian figures in Choderlos De Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses (1782). Yet, unlike De Laclos, Zayas has faith in her characters’ renewal. They are not fixed from the outset, but rather, capable of change or at very least, awareness of their actions.
There is research to indicate that Zayas, in writing this play, was responding directly to Tirso de Molina’s Don Jua/lel burlador de sevilla. It is tantalizing to read Zayas’ play as an inversion of Tirso’s classic, but I think Zayas was after something more in this play than simply one-upping Tirso.
Zayas is seeking to unravel the knot of love itself and how it enters lives; she wants to examine the glory and simultaneous wreckage of love. In the two previous English-language faithful, scholarly translations of this play (by Teresa S. Soufas, 1997; and Catherine Larson with notes by Valerie Hegstrom, 1999), every effort has been made to read Zayas’ work through a feminist lens.
As free adaptor of this text, I have been faced with the dilemma of re-recording Zayas’s vision for a new age, but also making the play work on the stage. The solution of preferring prose over strict meter and rhyme scheme is not the only one toward addressing the play’s inherent unconventionality and movable anchors. Unlike male writers of this period in dramatic history, Zayas’ work in relatively unknown to theatre-goers and practitioners (though recognized by academics and scholars). So, in many ways, working on and staging this play, is very much like staging a brand new play. Its precedents are unfamiliar, its situations, however, are not. You don’t need to know Spanish Golden Age drama to appreciate Zayas’ comedy, and I also think that reducing her point of view to a feminist one (as valid as it is) negates the problematics of the piece itself, which is conflicted and somewhat at war with not only the position of women in society but also how women and men behave toward themselves and each other.
Love’s treason – its blessed and cursed treachery on our inviolate hearts – is the focus of this play. In this free adaptation (working from my own translation), I have cut entire scenes and characters from the original, changed motivations and intentions, and added new text – all, though, in order to meet what I believe are Zayas’ original purposes. Any free version will bear the mark of its author. And this case is no different. Zayas is interested in the machinations and inconsistencies of love and its pursuit (and she reflects this both in content and form). My own interests as a playwright are attracted to the unexplained, irrational forces that govern passion and how those forces can disrupt relationships and the form of theatre itself.
A little betrayal among friends, thus, is my answer to Zayas. Perhaps it will be seen by purists as a literary betrayal, but my hope is that it is seen as a loving new rendering based on Zayas’ intentions. Love’s enchanting traicion destabilizes the vision that we carry of ourselves and instead offers us the un-fixed possibilities of who we can be. It is in the spirit of possibility that I offer this text.
Articles and Media
Spotlight – A Little Betrayal Among Friends. Kings Park Patch. July 21,2011