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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The Duende Cycle’s BODAS DE SANGRE: ¡Un orgullo hispano!

The Duende Cycle’s BODAS DE SANGRE: ¡Un orgullo hispano!

With great admiration I write about the  Duende Cycle’s performance of Bodas de sangre in the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. I attended on Sunday, September 18, 2016. This scrappy company  recreated and updated Federico García Lorca’s masterpiece and it worked! The concept was created by Eliana Fabiyi and Tanaquil Márquez. Tanaquil Márquez also directed. The nimble cast really brought the play to life and they received a standing ovation at the end.   Lorca’s language is not as poetic and strictly in verse as that of Calderón de la Barca, from the Golden Age, but its structure and Spanish language are still much more formal than what most Spanish speakers in the United States normally speak.  Lorca called it “Poema trágico en tres actos y siete cuadros.” To juggle two languages (English and Spanish) in one production, is another feat. The cast, director and acting coach, Eliana Tabiyi, (also the sound designer) should be commended for the successful rendering of this very important and challenging script.

When I arrived at the Asian Arts Initiative, we were directed to stand and wait for the elevator. It took some time to get up to the third floor because the elevator only held 6 people. At the ticket table they ran out of programs, and we were informed the subtitles were broken. Since I am a fluent Spanish speaker I was not concerned about the subtitles. Before the show started they did manage to give out more programs. The program is quite special–it is made like a wedding invitation, which is very appropriate for Blood Wedding.  This was one of many details that added authenticity and at the same time uniqueness to this production.

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The original play is set in Spain, in a region with vineyards. This current production takes place in Miami. Although we tend to think of California as our wine country, there are quite a few vineyards in Florida. The set included a table and chairs with dominoes, which is very Cuban and Cuban-American. There were group dances–in the beginning to latin music–including hits by Gente de Zona, “La gozadera” (an extremely popular Cuban group)  and Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi vida.” During the wedding, there is another dance to “Despierte la novia”, which is sung acapella except for bongo drums. It was tinged with a flamenco rhythm. Lorca is so associated with the gypsy culture, that this scene seemed like an homage, a showing of deep respect for the original play and its author.

The set is simple, but extremely effective. The mound of dirt heightened the earthiness, the very visceral feeling of Lorca’s tragedies. It was also a way to create space in a very small area and bring nature indoors. It made sense when La madre comes down from the dirt hill after visiting the graves of her husband and son. It made the swamp believable in the third act as well. Lighting and costumes by Angela Coleman and David Reece Hutchison, were also appropriate and helped flesh out the different locations and characters.

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Every actor in the ensemble was strong. Some of the actors convincingly interpreted more than one character.  I especially liked the contrast between La Madre, Yajaira Paredes and La Novia, Aneesa Neibauer. Ms. Parades is obviously a veteran actor, and she has an electric stage presence. She played the mother as a sturdy matriarch. A suffering widow, yet one who maintains her dignity and commands respect. At the other extreme, La Novia, was a fragile young woman. Ms. Neibauer’s portrayal was very natural. This simple and naive bride made you feel sorry for her and believe it wasn’t her fault–when it fact she decided to leave her husband and run away with Leonardo. She could have not married him or she could have resisted Leonardo. I also must mention the fight between Leonardo, (Sidney Gantt) and El novio (Josh Tewell). It was SO realistic. I was expecting that one would really be stabbed and blood would spill. (Of course I breathed a sigh of relief when both actors stood up and took their bows at the end!)

Duende in Spanish has several meanings, but one of them is to have a superior talent, to represent the authentic soul of art.   Duende Cycle showed that in Bodas de sangre. I look forward to their next offering!

Check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheDuendeCycle/