Where: Lookingglass Theatre Company, Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.
When: through April 24
By ANNE SPISELMAN
Lust, longing, and revenge drive Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1933 “Blood Wedding,” yet Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of this powerful, poetic play is surprisingly flat.
Daniel Ostling has designed many sets for the ensemble but this is his first directing challenge, and it shows. While shifting the story from Andalusia to California’s Central Valley during the Great Depression so we’ll identify more with the characters makes a certain sense, there’s an air of experimentation that undermines the cohesiveness of the relatively short three acts.
For the first act, which introduces the town’s people, sets up the impending wedding, and more-or-less explains the background of an age-old family feud, Ostling has the actors sitting on chairs around the three-sided stage, watching each other perform and providing sound effects and props. By the last act, we’re in a dark, mysterious landscape where the language is highly symbolic, the participants include a vengeful moon, and the action peaks with a homoerotic duel. In between is the wedding and its immediately aftermath, played in a fairly straightforward style augmented by Rick Sims folksy music, as are some opening scenes.
Under Ostling’s direction, the characters, who are meant to be universal, remain as generic as their designations, and I suspect the translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata doesn’t help. At the center is the triangle of The Bridegroom (Chance Bone), a decent young man who is ready to wed now that he’s affluent enough to buy a vineyard; The Bride (Helen Sadler), a shy and dutiful woman with a secret; and the only one who has a name, Leonardo (Kareem Bandealy), her former love who still burns for her and rides his horse nightly to her home.
Swirling around these three are the Bridegroom’s Mother (Christine Mary Dunford), whose fury at Leonardo’s family over the murder of her husband and older son hasn’t subsided; the Bride’s Father (Troy West), a blustery man who sees the economic benefits of uniting his family with the bridegroom’s; Leonardo’s jealous, long-suffering Wife (Atra Asdou), who begs him to stay home with her and their baby; Leonardo’s Mother-in-Law (Wendy Mateo), and The Maid/The Neighbor (Eva Barr), who in both roles interacts mostly with the Bridegroom’s Mother. Sophie Michelle Bastounes, Kevin Viol, Bubba Weiler, and Melisa Pereyra play a variety of parts, as well as being musicians and singers.
The main problem dramatically is that there’s no fire between The Bride and Leonardo, who are supposed to be in the throws of passion so strong they have to submit to it. We don’t get any sense of her feeling for The Bridegroom, either, so her inner conflict is missing.
Only Dunford goes beyond one dimensional, turning the Bridgegroom’s Mother into a formidable force of nature wracked by grief over her past loss, rage at those responsible, and fear and regret over potentially losing her younger son and being left alone. Steely and severe in costume designer Mara Blumenfeld’s Victorian-looking black dress at the wedding, she towers over everyone else, figuratively if not literally.
In fact, the visual imagery is Ostling’s main strength. His scenic design features a towering clapboard back wall that stunningly opens and folds back on itself. Striking splashes of color, such as red wool wound on a spinning wheel, punctuate several scenes. The chase to catch Leonardo takes place in a nighttime milieu with that eerily lit ax-wielding moon (Pereyra)—lighting design by TJ Gerckens—buckets that catch the moonlight, and a fiery pit presumably leading to hell. I must admit, though, that I’m still scratching my head over the meaning of the levitating black upright piano. For the finale, off-white fabric rippling over the whole stage sets off the grieving women in black.
If only more of “Blood Wedding” were as potent as the best moments, it would be a winner. As it is, this is that rare Lookingglass show that left me unmoved, except perhaps for frustration.