Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Not Getting Married Today

July 25, 2011

Sharon Omi and Willie Fortes Photo: Odyssey Theater

Federico Garcia Lorca’s play Blood Wedding cries out to be an opera. In fact, it has received at least two opera treatments that I know of, and it continues to be popular as a stand alone play. The story is compact and emotionally intense: a young bride abandons her groom and their families during the evening celebration following their nuptials to abscond with her former lover. That lover’s family has a history of violence with the groom’s kin and the inevitable violence and retribution ensue as the many mothers, sisters, and wives of the two clans look on. But all that passion and action does not automatically mean that Blood Wedding is easy, or straightforward to mount on the stage. The language is an issue if a company plans an English-language production and there is a large cast filled with at least two major supernatural characters that tug at the edges of the play’s realistic family drama. That Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theater Ensemble makes such a reasonable showing of the play despite these challenges is commendable despite some significant flaws.

The Jon Lawrence Rivera-directed version of Tanya Ronder’s English translation handles the magical realism and more symbolic elements of the play well. John H Binkley’s simple circular stage is both inviting and focuses the attention where it needs to be. All of this is dominated by a gigantic moon that slowly crosses a portion of the rear of the set. Rivera also employs his large cast in a number of choreographed scene changes that highlight the sense of inevitability in the work as if everyone is heading toward their fated destination. When Death and the Moon arrive, they seem completely at home in this world of tragically colliding families. On the down side, Rivera and his cast are tripped up by the language. Ronder’s translation attempts to preserve what it can of Lorca’s poetry in a modern English translation, but it can come off as prosaic at times. The large ensemble cast sounded restrained down from a full boil to more of a simmer with the text. Nothing ever felt that it was all that dangerous or that there was that much at stake in the end. I've seen more volatile Springer episodes. Some of the performances were clunky, although I was taken with Donna Pieroni’s Neighbor and Sharon Omi as the mother of the groom. But as much stage time as they had, there were plenty of other haphazard moments that made this a long 90 minutes. However, if it’s a work you aren’t familiar with, the production doesn’t take away from Lorca’s sense of the dramatic. Blood Wedding, even a clunky one, can make you feel that you’re watching something that is outsized and bigger than life. The Odyssey Theater production runs through August 14.

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