KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 16, 2000
The plays of Federico Garcia Lorca are about passion and poetry. Tragedy and social violence. Repression and revenge. It was a crime of passion that inspired the playwright to write his classic, “Blood Wedding” in 1933 — a news story about a bride who elopes with her cousin, after which her jilted groom murders her lover. The play was written in a pique of passion, too, reportedly completed in a white heat of 1-2 weeks. It oozes sensuality as much as it drips with blood. But in a new production at the La Jolla Playhouse, it is precisely the passion that’s missing. English director Mark Wing-Davey has crafted a high-concept, post-modern drama that feels distinctly familiar. We’ve seen it all before: the shower-curtain drapes and buzz-saw sound of Sledgehammer, the blinding light and minimalist, presentational style of UCSD student productions, even the white-faced, upside-down hanging bodies of the dance troupe, Sankaijuku. It all feels so… last century. And the endless Spanish folksongs, though commenting on the action and underscoring the rustic Andalusian setting, stretch the first act interminably, while diminishing the dramatic and erotic tension.
The play itself is problematic. It begins firmly rooted in the reality of folk drama, but swirls deeper and deeper into a surreal dreamscape, a place of symbols and universals, where Death and the Moon conspire against the lovers. Wing-Davey makes this sharp transition even more abrupt, opening the second act with blinding lights and deafening buzz-saws. There’s too much energy focused on the look and the sound, at the expense of the feel of the piece — the heart, the palpable ardor. Violence overrides rapture, when there should be balance, in a haunting play about forbidden love, freedom of thought, and the consequences of suppressing or giving in to animal instincts.
Though the uneven, bilingual cast is onstage, scuffling in the dusty red dirt, idly singing and dancing about when the audience enters, and though they mingle with us during the intermission, we are strangely distanced from the onstage action. Except for one brief moment, after the star-crossed lovers escape to the woods, we never feel the irresistible physical urge between these two: a darkly dangerous man from a deadly family (what you might call ‘bad blood’) and a young girl torn between her blood ties (family and societal obligations) and this uncontrollable lust, that leads her to betray her new husband, defy her family and shred the social fabric that swaddled her. I never once believed her desire for her lover, only her disdain for her husband. As archetypes, most of these characters don’t travel very far psychologically, but the actors played primarily one note, and often it was overly loud. The poetry of this internationally acclaimed wordsmith is submerged, and after 2 1/4 hours of evocatively drab browns and grief-torn black, the production ends with a jarringly colorful final image, leaving us more mystified than moved.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.