Lorca Crosses Over in Philadelphia: Wilma Theater’s Blood Wedding

Federico García Lorca is Spain’s most popular playwright/poet of the 20th century. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by events leading up to the Spanish Civil War, but his poetry and plays live on in the hearts and minds of the people. Blood Wedding or in Spanish, Bodas de sangre, is part of a trilogy of plays that includes the phenomenally well known La casa de Bernarda Alba  (The House of Bernarda Alba), and the less often produced, Yerma.  Almost everbody in Spain and most of Latin America is familiar with these plays. In addition, the Repertorio Español in New York, has had La casa de Bernarda Alba in repertory for decades, and in Philadelphia, a captivating bilingual version was recently staged in the 2016 Fringe Festival.  Wilma Theater’s new production of Blood Wedding in Philadelphia is further proof that there are no national borders that limit the appreciation of Lorca’s art.

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– Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare and the Company of The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert

In my opinion, Lorca’s plays in English tend to be less successful than those done in Spanish or bilingually, even though they are more accessible to an American audience, many who have never heard of Lorca and don’t speak Spanish either. There is a poetry, a cadence, a rhythm and passion to the words that is sometimes lost in translation. Also, when producing his plays in English, there may be an attempt to “make it Spanish” with realistic set, period costumes and even Spanish music, but that can seem superficial alongside English words and inauthentic gestures/body language.

Wilma Theater employs an original English translation by Nahuel Telleria, and takes a novel approach to Blood Wedding. It avoids the previous mentioned pitfalls, by stripping Blood Wedding down to its pure emotion and action.The plot revolves around a young woman who is going to marry a man that she does not love. She has been involved with another man who comes from a family that is notorious for violence, and there is an ongoing feud between her fiance’s family and the old lover’s family because of previous murders. Hungarian director and choreographer, Csaba Horváth, builds a world onstage that is full of movement, intensity and sound. This production has a sparse set and dramatic lighting, both designed by Thom Weaver.  Sound design is by Larry D. Fowler, Jr. and Oana Botez fashioned simple costumes that are appropriate for the physical movement required. Blood Wedding  incorporates live (non-Spanish) music composed by Csaba Okros, and sung and played by the actors themselves.

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 Lindsay Smiling, Campbell O’Hare, and Matteo Scammell in The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Blood Wedding as physical theatre works. The action is riveting and all attention is on the performers since there is no fussy set to distract. The choreography is innovative and utilizes the entire stage and a balcony on a second level. The characters also sing, chant and play instruments. But the music, like the interactions, is earthy and raw. This fits in well with the rural characters’ motivations, frustrations and passions.

The ensemble has been preparing the movement in Blood Wedding for over a year. Most of the cast are members of “Wilma HotHouse” and include: Ross Beschler, Taysha Marie Canales, Sarah Gliko, Justin Jain, Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare, Jaylene Clark Owens, Brett Ashley Robinson, Matteo Scammell, Lindsay Smiling and Ed Swidey. As the Bride, Campbell O’Hare is most expressive in her dancing and physical movement. She is able to convey the desire and insecurity of a young woman marrying a man she doesn’t love while pining for another. Ed Swidey, as her father, handles Lorca’s words naturally–the part seems written for him. As the groom’s mother, Jaylene Clark Owens’ is a strong, yet wary matriarch.  Lindsay Smiling, as Leonardo (the old flame) in terms of dance/physical technique, is a supportive partner in the pas-de-deux with both his wife, played by Sarah Gliko,

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The Company of The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert.

and lover (O’Hare). He communicates his conflicting feelings through the choreography. Sarah Gliko stands out, not only for her acting and movement, but for her singing and playing musical instruments throughout the show.

Wilma Theater is known for its experimental theatre, so it is in its tradition to do something “different” with one of Lorca’s masterpieces. This Blood Wedding is an experience that will appeal particularly to those who appreciate experimental approaches, dance and physical theatre. If you are looking for flamenco, Spanish costumes, an elaborate set, and want to revel in the sound of Lorca’s verse, look elsewhere. Movement and pure emotion take center stage in this production.

Please note that the running time of Blood Wedding is an hour and fifty minutes, with NO intermission.

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