Forget Andrew Lloyd Webber, Gatomaquia Is the True Cats

Two years before Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were born, the city of Madrid spawned Lope de Vega, one of the most prolific dramatists in theater history. Vega penned 1,800 plays and 3,000 sonnets, and sure, they weren't all gems. (It's hard to imagine anyone writing so many plays without rehashing any themes, plots, or characters. God knows the Bard couldn't do it.) But one hundred of Vega's plays are widely considered masterpieces. This Wednesday, Vega's Gatomaquia comes to life at the Arsht Center for Teatro Avante's International Hispanic Theatre Festival.

Directed by Héctor Manuel Vidal and performed in Spanish by La Cuarta, a Uruguayan artists' collective, Gatomaquia is a tale about cats engaged in an epic battle of love and war. Yes, cats. Sound familiar? That's because Vega's feisty cats inspired T. S. Eliot to scribble the poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which in turn inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats. Vega's work preceded the latter by four centuries, so expect it be more subtle and refined than a bunch of annoying feline impostors in tights, leg warmers, and painted-on whiskers.

Teatro Avante's director, Mario Ernesto Sanchez, saw La Cuarta's

performance of Gatomaquia at the 2009 IberoAmercian Theatre Festival in

Spain, and in his words, "immediately thought it was something Miami

should see." La Cuarta's rendition of Vega's work earned several

Florencio Awards -- the Uruguayan equivalent of our Tony awards --

including best show, best director, and best cast. Sanchez says, "It's

a classic, with a talented cast, excellent directing, and an original

way of framing Lope de Vega's work.  Modern theatergoers, in Miami and

elsewhere, are unpredictable, but if they experience what I did when I

first saw it, the word will get around."

Gatomaquia runs this Wednesday to Friday at the Arsht Center's

Carnival Studio Theater (1300 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami) at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $28.75. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.

--Ily Goyanes

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