PICTURED: Bridget De Maria, Katarina Lopez and Maya De La Torre star in CLU’s production of Fuenteovejuna. Photo by Brian Stethem

History repeats itself. That’s true, but maybe even truer is that people remain the same. We are as capable now as we’ve always been of incredible acts of courage, just as we’ve always possessed the ability to be cruel. 

Fuenteovejuna, onstage through Nov. 24 at California Lutheran University’s Black Box Theatre, shows us just how true that is. Written in 1614 by the Spanish playwright Lope Félix de Vega y Carpio and translated by Curt Columbus, Fuenteovejuna is based on a true story about the people of a small town who band together to take down a brutal ruler. 

The year was 1476 and the citizens of Fuenteovejuna were under the rule of Fernán Gómez, a Commander of the Knights of Calatrava. Gómez committed acts of terrible cruelty, especially against the town’s women. After one particularly heinous attack (which, thankfully, is only alluded to onstage), the women led the men in a revolt that ended in Gómez’s murder. When news of the assassination reached King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, the royals sent an inspector to interrogate the people of Fuenteovejuna to find the killer. The residents never wavered in their story, not even after being tortured. One by one, their response was a defiant,“Fuenteovejuna did it.” (The production’s use of audio to convey the townspeople’s resounding courage is extremely effective.)  

The cast, made up of Cal Lutheran students, does a wonderful job of capturing the passion and the spirit of the play. Their appreciation of the work’s continued (some might even say renewed) relevance is felt in every scene, making the production all the more powerful. 

Arndt brings out the best in the young actors. Standouts include Katarina Lopez, who is wonderful as Laurencia, the woman who leads the revolt. Sacaiah Stan Shaw breathes life into the character of Frondoso, Laurencia’s beloved. Blake Elder is very effective as Mengo, the most unlikely of heroes. Maya de la Torre possesses an endearing soulfulness as Laurencia’s best friend. Will Peña strikes a confident tone as Gómez, and Bridget De Maria gives a memorable performance as Jacinta. Rounding out the cast is Clayton Currie, Mikey Moss, Garrett James Wyatt, Eugenio Frew, Waqar Ahmed, Simon Pike, Zach Hessemer, Jacob White, Diego Neira, Olivia Zonni, Rebecca Graham, El Caris Camarillo and Xavier F. Reynoso. The delightful ensemble includes Joey Grimaldi, Austin Tapola, Emmalee Villafana, Bianca Akbiyik, Georgia Caines and Arianna Velazquez.

Scenic designer Andrea Heilman and space designer Josh Clabaugh transformed the black box theater into a town square, with the audience seated on three sides and two levels around the staging area. The result gives one the profound feeling that the audience is part of the action. The authentic costumes, hair and makeup are the work of Noelle Raffy. Moments of both levity and drama are heightened by the nuanced work of lighting designer Peter W. Mitchell and assistant lighting designer Morgan Holady. Composer Christopher Hoag and composer/guitarist Aaron Medina provide a soundtrack. The rest of the talented crew includes properties master T. Theresa Scarano, fight choreographer Jason D. Rennie and dance choreographer El Caris Camarillo.  

Fuenteovejuna is well worth your time, not only because it is a fine production, but because it celebrates the power of the common man and woman, even in the darkest of times. And sometimes, we need to be reminded of that. 

Fuenteovejuna through Nov. 24 at California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, #7800, Thousand Oaks. For more information, call 805-493-3452 or visit www.callutheran.edu/college-arts-sciences/theatre-arts/.