By Mikey Miller
Incessant inbreeding undoubtedly marred the lives of many a European royal during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, producing a group of people who were plagued by absolutely avoidable physical and psychological disabilities. Perhaps one of the most tragic cases was Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias, the Spanish Inquisition‑era Hapsburg heir to the Castilian throne, who only survived a mere couple of weeks past his twenty‑third birthday. In “Don Carlos: Prince of Asturias,” Oscar Emmanuel Fabela expertly dons the crown of the ostracized prince, as he attempts to shed light on how and why he became the way he was, blissfully unaware of any potential biological reason for his immense social and behavioral indiscretions.
The lights barely rise on what appears to be a cold jail cell. Scattered around the stage are bits and pieces of Carlos’s princely attire, supplemented only by a glass bowl containing strawberries, the prince’s favorite food and possibly the only thing he’s willing to eat while trapped in this mortal hell. The prince begins by compulsively naming the few objects in his sight, the most irksome being the window. He is angered at the sight of the window (the persona of which he assigns to the audience), as the window allows others to look into his cell without his explicit permission.
Mr. Fabela’s Don Carlos brings us through some of the defining moments that got him to this point: when, at the age of six, he got too close to a male playmate, whom he never saw again; when his best friend‑turned‑betrothed revealed that she was pregnant; when his father announced to him that he was a good‑for‑nothing who would never inherit the throne. During the show, Carlos redresses himself in his attire, metaphorically attempting to make himself whole again, and regain some semblance of the little humanity onto which he clutches. But ultimately, we are left with the same picture as when we began. Don Carlos is once again on the floor, his back to the audience, in a fetal position, helplessly trembling.
“Don Carlos: Prince of Asturias” is a provocative character study into why and how a person may descend into what is seen by the outside world as sheer madness, when they themselves haven’t the slightest idea. In forty brisk, yet sometimes difficult (as in, emotionally), minutes, the incredibly likeable Mr. Fabela gives us reason to sympathize with Don Carlos. Despite the boy’s birth into the most privileged of circumstances, there was almost no person in the world who showed him any human decency or respect. On the streets, he laments, commoners either avoid any eye contact at all, or stare at him and gossip.
Although Mr. Fabela has a slight figure, which absolutely works when embodying this prince, who appeared to be stuck in adolescence, he easily commands the room, by both persuasively and sympathetically portraying Don Carlos’s varying psychoses. Whether he is playing a game of word association (Carlos’s fascination with the word “window” suddenly becomes a pretext for himself to repeatedly call himself a “winner,” valiantly trying to believe that he actually is one), or preventing himself from muttering the pejorative word his father called him (one referring to what was then considered sexual deviancy), Mr. Fabela has made this highly controversial historical figure, one eradicated from history books, into one that is appealing, helpless, and unfortunately, doomed to an untimely fate from the start.
In his overall creation of the piece and his performance, Mr. Fabela has mastered the art of what can only be described as “less is more.” The writing both simultaneously leaves much unsaid, and yet allows the audience to understand exactly what Don Carlos is trying‑but lacks the emotional capacity or strength‑to say. In performance, Mr. Fabela never makes any grotesquely overemphasized acting choices; every word, sound, and movement carries a particular, intentional purpose.
“Don Carlos: Prince of Asturias”
Written and Performed by Oscar Emmanuel Fabela
Directed by Sylvia Cervantes Blush
October 25, at 7:30 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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MIKEY MILLER is an actor, writer, and tutor based in Jersey City, NJ. He received his BA in English with a minor in theatre arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Since then, Mikey has acted in off-Broadway and regional productions and worked as a freelance writer for publications such as StageAgent and ShowTickets.