BACK STAGE WEST
October 07, 1999
at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
That Lorca's poetic dramas lend themselves to operatic treatment has been proven before by Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (a company run in part by Carmen Zapata, whose translations with the late Michael Dewell are endorsed by Lorca's heirs), with its brilliant 1991 chiaroscuro chamber opera by Zapata and Ian Krouse, Lorca, Child of the Moon.
So it is little surprise that at its best, this new staging by director Margarita Galban of Lorca's Blood Wedding resembles and often invokes opera--specifically in a series of striking, melismatic arias penned by Krouse and coolly sung by local treasure Suzanna Guzman, perfectly cast as Death, and more generally in its elemental staging across Estela Scarlata's rugged grotto set, in front of a sky lit by Robert Fromer to seem alternately expansive and foreboding. This could be the setting for anything from Jenufa to Cavalleria Rusticana.
What is surprising, though, for a BFA production is the uneven quality of the acting, especially the male leads. While John Paul as the Bridegroom and Jesus Nebot as Leonardo have the right looks--Paul is sunny, grinningly handsome, Nebot darkly seething and vulpine--neither has the presence or the chops to do much more than suggest the basics of his character: the oblivious, dissed Bridegroom and the surly bad-boy homewrecker.
The women mostly fare better: Margarita Lamas nails the Mother's hauteur and lingers eerily if not entirely convincingly over her perverse wallowing in her pain and loss at men's hands; Denise Blasor viscerally suggests the Bride's terrible push-pull of attraction and repulsion, which rightly makes this a richer, more ambiguous play than the typical girl-backs-out-of-stifling-arranged-marriage fable; Alejandra Flores does her patented rough-hewn peasant ebullience with aplomb, and the forceful Flavia Saravalli is something of a discovery as Leonardo's despairing wife.
The secondary characters are hit-and-miss: Ciro Suarez makes a fine if obvious Father, while Tina D'Marco is shamelessly cutesy as a chattery neighbor; I was shocked by her cheery delivery of her first speech, in which she barely breaks her grin to lament her son's cruel maiming at his field work. The staging choices also vary in quality: The play's raucous wedding party scene, with an extended flamenco solo by Mar"a "Chacha" Bermudez and a welcome feeling of spontaneous celebration, has an admirably overflowing vitality, but the climactic duel between the Bridegroom and Leonardo is a wash of lame slo-mo action and fraught red lights.
A series of haunting tableaux, with Fromer's lights lingering on the women's harrowed faces, are what stick with us--along with those extraordinary soliloquys in which a sultry but hollow-eyed Guzman lifts her blood-red shawl over her head and locates the true heart of Lorca's Catholic-gypsy poetics.
"Blood Wedding," presented by the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sept. 24-Oct. 31. $16-20. (323) 225-4044.