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Except for a terrified and confusing depiction of Harlem Negroes as Congolese savage-Chiefs, Blood Wedding is Garcia Lorca's most fantastic poem, and his most intense effort to draw dramatic situations from people's most primitive conflicts. Everything is straight and crude: the wedding brings together the son of a powerful widow (who wants him to produce more sons to carry on a family vendetta that killed her husband) and the daughter of a grasping landowner (who wants to grasp more land).
Neither bride nor groom cares much about these tribal parental interests; but on their wedding day a member of the murdering family, Leonardo, sweeps the bride he loves out of the village ritual, and independent as a "shooting star," rides off with her. Feuding at last, the groom chases after them; the two men meet and kill each other. The bride makes a definite return to the village, announcing that she has followed the rule of custom at least in that she remains caste--and so leaves Leonardo to be the tragic protagonist, the only individual outside the force of ritual and hence the only character to whom Lorca gives a specific name.
This is rural tragedy; by squeezing humanity in a Granadan village into an even more primitive lump than it actually is, Lorca wanted to fill his stage with constricting unreality: characters talk to each other in indirect but elemental metaphors, and one character, Death as a beggar-woman, actually exists as such a metaphor. Even the Moon comes on to make a speech. The simple trouble is that like nearly all rural tragedy Blood Wedding is the sort of melodrama into which actors are reluctant to empty their energies, and that therefore strikes audiences as faintly embarrassing vulgarity.
Lorca had a solution for this, which he liked to lecture about and call the duende, an energetic Andalusian daemon of black sounds that supplements (and stomps on) mere form and technique in art--especially in Spanish art. "The arrival of the Duende... gives a sense of refreshment unknown till then, together with that quality of the just-opening rose, of the miraculous, which comes and instills an almost religious transport." Blood Wedding, I would imagine, expects the daemon to emerge in the performance.
But the Duende has stayed away from the Loeb this week. The play is supposed to hang heavy with the ceaselessly repeated and almost unendurable symbolism of sex and death: blood, horses, water, rose, carnation, snow--blood in particular, because blood is the center of the tragedy's force. It is the link between generations, and is therefore also the past, the necessity to procreate, the vendetta--the entire culture that comes together at the wedding and presumably makes Leonardo's defeat heroic and inevitable. In the face of all this formidable blood, the H.D.C. production's cast seems faintly embarrassed.
Probably it is mostly the director's (Nirk Delbanco) fault, for he clearly has no control over either cast or play. He has not, fortunately, tried to intellectualize Blood Wedding; but neither has he stylized it, given the characters some central idea of movement and speech on which to hang their parts They even talk in different accents; the Mother (Tina Morse) strong Spanish, the Mother-in-law (Norma Anderson) mildly cockney, the rest ordinary American. This strikes one as odd, admittedly, only when one can hear them, for they conspire in whispers on a set placed so far back from the apron that actors and audience rarely make contact.
Miss Morse, who has the tough job of setting the tone of the play, is simply too weak too make convincing lines like "Your father, he used to take me. That's the way with men of good stock; good blood. Your grandfather left a son on every corner. That's what I like. Men, men; wheat, wheat." Yes; but it must be imposing, and she is as ineffectual as her son (Stephen Gehlbach). The production does not in fact begin to move until the third act, when the Moon (Jere Whiting) completely takes over from the director. "I want no shadows," he intones, "My rays must get in everywhere, even among the dark trunks I want the whisper of gleaming lights, so that this night there will be sweet blood for my cheeks..." It is a revelation. The other characters immediately realize what Blood Wedding is about; Whiting's cold assurance and Death's (Edna Selan Epstein) brilliantly fire the cast.
But it remains unhappily true that before then they can do nothing. It hardly matters that wherever he moves, Philip Kerr (as Leonardo) creates a patch of splendid resilience and vitality so powerful that he draws the Bride (Ann Lilley Kerr) into the circle of his power; she and Leonardo's wife (Pat Fay in an unhappily neutral role) flash and charm in his presence. If anybody has duende Kerr has; he explains better than Lorca can how Leonardo manages to drag the Bride along like "the pull of the sea." Yet out of what, in this production, does he drag her? Certainly not a tight, musky web, an oppressive atmosphere of blood and vengeance. Rather a cheery village of polite, almost inaudible gossips; Frank Perkins as the Bride's Father, for example, behaves like an English country gentleman.
Life is pleasant enough in the village. They wear good costumes there, thanks to Barbara Channing, and the two musicians play a good guitar. Paul Sapounakis' set, an ingenious arrangement of vaguely Iberian arches, would (if they were closer to me) surround the play well enough--even though it has nothing to do with Lorca's instructions. Still, it is only in the last act, when Eric Regener's music throws dread, mystery, and the Moon out on stage, that Blood Wedding really begins.
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