A Tale of Transformative Work

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by Zainab Lemkhanat

Odyssey Theatre’s 2019 production, The Bonds of Interest, is one of Jacinto Benavente’s (1866-1954) most notable works.

The Spanish writer and 1922 Nobel Laureate described it as a “play of puppets” who express human relations and situations, and even universal truths. The comedy was first performed at Teatro Lara in Madrid in 1907 and restores the characters of Commedia dell’Arte to the Spanish stage after a long absence, renewing interest in the genre.

In seventeenth-century Italy, two loveable rogues, Crispín and Leandro, are on the run. They turn up in a new town with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Leandro is shy, whereas Crispin is manipulative and resourceful. And so, while Leandro worries about how they will feed themselves, Crispín is already plotting to make a little money. Almost immediately, he formulates a simple but ingenious plan. Using the gift of gab, Crispin will spread the news around town that Leandro is a great nobleman and that he, Crispín, is his servant. Leandro himself will say very little in public, giving him an air of mystique. Once his reputation as a wealthy man is secured, Leandro – with Crispín’s help – will set his sights on marrying Silvia. She is the daughter of Polichinela, the wealthiest man in town, and a match with her would be profitable for both crooks.

From a poet to a politician, and from a soldier to a stockbroker, all take the bait. By the time the truth is revealed and their hopes are dashed, the devious Crispin and his master have them so tied up in bonds of vested interest that no one can afford to reveal the plot for fear of losing everything they own.

Indeed, many of the characters of the play have their roots in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, such as the greedy patriarch Polichinela and the poet Arlequín. Crispín is also reminiscent of the wise and comedic servants that populated plays in the 16thand 17thcentury.

The relative lack of nuance of said characters allows Benavente to play the part of satirist, demonstrating the duality of man’s nature. Good and evil coexist in every man. Generosity and friendliness mingle freely with the sordid and the base. In addition, Benavente’s characters remind us that there are consequences to one’s conduct. Truly, the play could only be hailed as a transformative work when it was first performed in Spain, in the eve of the First World War.

The Bonds of Interest went on to be a huge success across Europe for its intrinsic quality of speaking to all.








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