Spotlight: ‘Wild Thing,’ new play by UMass Amherst Theater; National Geographic Live at Northampton’s Academy of Music

Published: 2/7/2019 4:00:00 PM

From the wilds of 17th-century Spain

In the early 1600s, terms like “gender nonconforming” and “non-binary” didn’t exist. But just as today, historically there were people who didn’t fit neatly into traditional male or female identities.

The main character of a 1613 play from Spain, “La Serrana de la Vera” (“The Mountain Girl from La Vera”), was evidently one of them. Gila is a tough girl from a small village who’s admired for her skills as a hunter and a sword fighter, but she also has a crush on Queen Isabel and considers herself both a daughter and a man.

Fast forward four centuries, and Gila is now the star of “Wild Thing,” an adaptation and translation of  “La Serrana de la Vera” by Harley Erdman, a University of Massachusetts Amherst theater professor and the librettist behind a number of Valley operas, most recently “The Scarlet Professor.”  The UMass Amherst Theater production of “Wild Thing” opens Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Rand Theater.

In an email, Erdman said that over the years, critics have tried “to puzzle through who Gila is — they’ve used labels like ‘manly,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘hybrid,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘queer,’ and, most recently, ‘trans.’ ” All those labels have been applied retrospectively, he notes, but they’ve all grappled with trying to identify a character who appears as a “she” in the text but who also has many masculine traits.

Erdman, who has translated other Spanish plays from this era, discovered “La Serrana de la Vera” (written by Luis Vélez de Guevara) at a conference in the fall of 2016 and immediately decided he wanted to translate it. “Wild Thing,” directed by Gina Kaufmann, has a non-binary actor in the role of Gila, who faces threats from some men who demand she conform to societal norms of femininity in 17th-century Spain — demands they’ll enforce violently if needed.

That’s when, as press notes put it, “the play shifts into overdrive” as Gila exacts her revenge upon the world. But if that sounds overly grim, the play also features its share of slapstick and spirited sword fights.

Tickets for “Wild Thing,” which will be staged Feb. 14-23, are $15 for general admission, $5 for students and seniors; reservations are encouraged. Call 1-800-999-UMAS or visit to order and for performance times. For ages 14 and up.


A look behind the curtain

Over the past 20-plus years, National Geographic photojournalist David Guttenfelder has visited more than 100 countries to cover issues such as global geopolitics and conservation — an itinerary tough to match.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, Guttenfelder comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music to present “A Rare Look: North Korea and Cuba,” a photo show and discussion that’s part of the National Geographic Live program. An eight-time World Press Photo Award winner, Guttenfelder helped open the first Associated Press news bureau in North Korea in 2011 and has since produced numerous images of the secretive country.

One, shot with an iPhone and posted on Instagram, was named one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Photographs Ever Taken” in 2016.

In more recent years, Guttenfelder has also traveled to Cuba to document life on the Caribbean island that had been in a Cold War standoff with the U.S. for decades before relations thawed during the Obama adminstration.

The Academy presentation takes place Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at (413) 584-9032, ext.105.

— Steve Pfarrer







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