Shakespeare's 'Henry VIII' debuts in Spanish at Broad Stage

William Shakespeare's “Henry VIII,” interpreted from a Spanish perspective by Spain's Rakata theater company, made its U.S. debut at Santa Monica College's Broad Stage on Thursday. The play was a smash hit at the Globe Theater in London that gave the audience a glimpse of the life of Shakespearean Henry VIII of his rivalry for power with intriguers and schemers, of his scandalous love affair with Anne Boleyn and of his divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Through the medieval atmosphere, the audience was set back into 16th century England. The actors were wearing a combination of medieval and modern costumes and performed on a stage that replicated an ancient castle hall, lit with warm, golden light. The entire play was spoken in Spanish. The English subtitles were projected onto a screen that appeared to be a black drape hanging high above the stage.

However, the subtitles were not actual translations of what was being spoken onstage, but only short summaries. Each synopsis was screened throughout the entire scene as it was being acted out. At times, the subtitles would cut off in half which provoked some audience members to leave before the end of the play. But despite this source of discomfort, "Henry VIII" overcame the hurdle and offered the audience an emotionally powerful performance, unique in its interpretation of Shakespeare's script without losing the play's original meaning.

"It's about power and people's relationship to power, their need to persevere, their ambitions and need for love," said producer Rodrigo Arribas, who also played one of the supporting roles.

"The way the play explores the relationship between the world's most powerful countries of the time, England and France, is similar to the conflicts we see today between other countries," said Arribas. "There are many aspects in which human beings have sadly not evolved much. It cuts across nationalities."

The play captured the most intense moments of Shakespeare's work and transformed them to the most essential and impressive scenes of the play.

One scene that was crucial, as it marked the beginning of Henry VIII's love affair, showed a masquerade ball which was designed almost like a wild revelry with the actors dressed in butterfly and animal masks. Here, Anne Boleyn, played by Sara Moraleda, appeared for the first time as her looks captured the attention of another masked party guest, King Henry VIII, played by Fernando Gil, which led them into a dance that was both graceful and sensual.

The most dramatic and emotionally intense moment was the death scene of Queen Catherine of Aragon, played by Elena Gonzalez. Catherine, alone and near death, descended into hallucinatory madness whenher lady Beatrix, played by Alejandra Mayo, described the baptism of Henry and Anne's first child, Elizabeth. The entire cast then appeared onstage, participating in the baptismal ceremony as Catherine stumbled and railed around them, railing against a reality that was out of her control. In the present time in which digital media is so prominent, theater has a unique power that lets the audience interact with the play, Moreleda said.

"The youth of the 21st century experiences something unique at the theater, because in an age of TV, the Internet and smartphones, there isn't that closeness of telling stories one on one,” she said. “The theater is alive and direct, and you as the viewer can participate. Theater can move you and make you feel things that the digital age simply cannot give you."

Gil said he strongly felt that "Henry VIII" has a universal message relevant for our time.

“In the play, you see so many characters who rise and then fall," he said. "All that is left is the humanity of the characters, the humility. We complicate life very much when what is important is to live with humility and goodness."