Spanish playwright Juan Antonio Mayorga’s “Hamlyn,” translated by David Johnston and directed at the intimate Fells Point Corner Theatre by Barry Feinstein, confronts the ideas of motivation and power and challenges the notions of guilt and innocence, and the thin veil that can sometimes shroud both, rendering them indecipherable at face value.
The play is loosely based on the tale of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” When asked to rid the town of its rats, the piper obliged and seduced them with his music and led them far away. But when refused payment for his services, the piper used the same melodic talents to lead the children out of town as well. In its opening scene, the audience at the Corner Theatre learns “Hamlyn is a beautiful city that glitters by day — but at night the rats emerge.”
“I love the writing in this play, the dialogue is beautiful,” said Feinstein. “It’s filled with poetic elements. It ends up complex and layered, that’s what makes it a great play.” About the plot, he added, “You really get a view of what happens when a boy is taken from his family and how the community reacts.”
In Mayorga’s play, Monterro, the investigating town judge, played by Sammie Real, tries to decipher the relationship between a local wealthy man, Rivas, played by Jim Knost, and a young boy, Josemarie, played by adult actor Michael Byrne Zemarel.
Rivas claims the relationship is that of benefactor, he’s just helping out because the family “is always in difficulties,” but Monterro suspects wrongdoing; it’s later confirmed by Josemarie and his older brother, Gonzalo, played by Tavon Vincent, that money and gifts were exchanged for intimate behavior and sexual favors.
The innocence of the parents also comes into question when, during investigation, the judge accuses Josemarie’s mother, Feli, played by Lucie Poirier, and his father, Paco, played by Karim Zelenka, of turning a blind eye to Rivas’ behavior in order to receive funds that would benefit their disadvantaged family.
Monterro enlists the help of a child psychologist, played by Candice Fabian, who intervenes and removes Josemarie from his family to a “safer” place. But her motives and credibility quickly become suspect too, as do Monterro’s, when his emotional involvement with the psychologist and the estrangement from his wife, Julia, played by Debbie Suehler, and his own son begin to surface.
During a rehearsal, Feinstein asked the actors who they thought the play’s guilty character was.
“They all pointed to somebody else,” he said. “Everyone has guilt on their sleeves … [all of the characters] are in denial in this play. There is no clear ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ — everyone has a goodness about them, and everyone is culpable.”
Feinstein asserted there are two kinds of theater.
“There’s the easy laughable entertainment, then there’s the great writing,” he said. “When you read a script from a really great writer, all of the dialogue [prompts thoughts of] deeper questions about life.”
He considers Hamlyn the latter.
The Commentator, played by Helenmary Ball, is a constant onstage presence who narrates the action and, at times, what the characters are thinking.
In a performance in which, Feinstein admitted, “the audience has to work, to figure out what the play is trying to communicate,” the Commentator’s statements can help audience members unravel the multiple layers presented. But, her running commentary and reactions can feel similar to ‘leading the witness.’
Feinstein said at the heart of the writing are the questions: How do you save a child from a desperate situation? How do you really listen to a child?
Hamlyn ultimately asserts, he said, that “to listen to a child is the most difficult thing in the world.”
Juan Antonio Mayorga’s “Hamlyn”
Fells Point Corner Theatre
Feb. 20 through March 8
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
For tickets and more information, visit fpct.org.