Written by Federico Garcia Lorca
Directed by Marya Cohn
At the Loeb Mainstage through April 18
GARCIA Lorca's Blood Wedding, easily the most famous play by the most famous 20th century Spanish writer, has by now surely earned a place in the Spanish theatrical canon analogous to that of Romeo and Juliet in the English cannon. Like Romeo and Juliet, Garcia Lorca's version of the classic theme of star-crossed lovers and feuding families is a poetic tragedy, rich in symbolic imagery and comic in scope.
The tragedy grows from the interaction of a triangle of characters. Actually, since fate rules entirely over these people's lives, leaving then no real free will, they are less characters than social types, as their names reveal. A young man, simply called the Groom (Pier Carlo Talenti), is engaged to a young woman, the Bride (Kristen Gasser). The Bride was engaged years ago to Leonardo (Daniel Zelman), but they quarreled and broke the engagement, and Leonardo married her cousin, the Wife (Allison Brody).
It gradually becomes apparent a that at the Bride and Leonardo still have some affection for each other. She is the daughter of woman who did not love her husband. To make things more complicated, Leonardo is a member of the Felix family, which has murdered the Groom's father and brother. Heredity, the agent of fate, determines from the very first scene the story's tragic outcome.
The other characters are all commentators on the tragedy. Each member of the triangle has a family that serves as a chorus. The Groom has a Mother (Rebecca Clark), who sees even in a harvesting knife a reminder of the deaths of her husband and elder of son, and the likelihood of a similar fate for her remaining son. Leonardo's Wife and his Mother-in-Law (Ashby Semple) sense Leonardo's increasing distance. The Bride has a Father(Daniel Hurewitz) and a Servant (Lisa Peers), who notices her strange reluctance as the wedding approaches.
BUT WHERE Shakespeare's characters in Romeo and Juliet are clearly universal, local Andalusian flavor pervades those of Blood Wedding and much of the Spanish specificity and poetry of Garcia Lorca's vision are lost on an American audience watching an English translation.
Some of the fault lies with the American audience itself, which is likely to find the Andalusian character of the play foreign and strange. As a result, certain lines in this tragedy that would evoke sympathy or pathos in a Spanish audience evoke bewilderment, disgust, or even laughter in an American audience.
But most of the fault lies in the translation. Director Marya Cohn adapted an already existing translation herself, which means that the blame for the loss of Garcia Lorca's poetic diction and for the unusual interpretation of certain characters is hers. Poetry, even free verse such as Garcia Lorca's galloping, assonant verse. If the actors delivery of this awkward English version of Garcia Lorca's poetry falls flat at times, they may be excused.
What Garcia Lorca's puppets of fate lack in characterization and human complexity, they make up for intensity of emotion. All the actors give appropriately intense performances, but Clark's Mother, Brody's Wife and Gasser's Bride deserve special mention. Clark and Brody offer true anguish at the impending loss of their men, and Gasser convinces that she is torn between her fiance and the man fate decrees for her.
The show is also excellent technically, as one would expect from a Mainstage production. Effective use is made of eerie lights, smoke, gauzy curtains, vivid sets, and sound effects. The sets and costumes usually don't match Garcia Lorca's explicit instructions, though and their symbolic meanings are lost.
Not all of Cohn's changes are detrimental. Particularly powerful is the addition of a brief dumbshow at the beginning, summarizing the predetermined plot with a few gestures. The presence onstage of flamenco guitarist Richard Chavez is also a nice touch.
Still, Cohn has changed Blood Wedding in many fundamental way. Garcia Lorca's primal story and themes remain, but his poetry and Andalusian spirit are either lost on the audience or are simply lost. The actors and production crew bring technical polish to the production, but the translation and Cohn's other changes tend to dilute their efforts to provide Blood Wedding with the intensity it deserves.