Gabriel Lorca was a Spanish playwright, poet, theater director, and artist, born near the city of Grenada in 1898, and arrested and executed in 1936. He combined several theatrical genres in his works, and the University of Houston, in the current adaptation, has paid homage to this by adding opening and closing bookends that bring Lorca himself on stage.
This is a major production of Blood Wedding, with a cast of 23 actors, and the director Keith Byron Kirk marshals them adroitly in the series of vignettes that comprise the play. The opening introduces the playwright as he forms an acting troupe, in an amusing and witty passage, and occasionally a brief segment from a film of Blood Wedding is projected on a rear wall, reminding us of Lorca's enduring impact. Brendon Lara plays Lorca, and is quite good, capturing his probing intelligence and adding a note of narcissistic smugness.
This is a wedding with an unexpected twist, leading to an exploration of the difference between passion and love, and I dare say no more of the plot, except that the forebodings of tragedy are etched early and successfully by the playwright. The emotions are powerful, and focus on family as well as individuals.
The central character is the Bridegroom's mother, bitter at the loss of her son and husband, but alive to the happiness grandchildren will bring. The character is histrionic, self-dramatizing, and powerful in force of personality, and Kiara Feliciano playing her finds all these traits, as well as the self-admitted element of madness. It is a performance that grows in power as passions spill upon the stage. Crash Buist is excellent as the Bridegroom, imposing in his straightforward honesty and love for the Bride, and convincing in his anger as fate turns against him.
Lisa Wartenberg has the difficult task of portraying the Bride, a woman who doesn't seem to know her own mind, and I found the characterization puzzling as she veers from genuine affection for the Groom - it is not a marriage arranged against her will - into an active distaste for him. There is a scene between her and the object of her hormonal passion, Leonardo, played by Kyle Powell, that is intended to illustrate this transition but she and Powell have zero chemistry together, so the overwhelming power of "nature" is described but not witnessed. Powell is quite good as an unfaithful, deceptive husband but his central motif is anger and Wartenberg's is sullen withdrawal - where is it written that amoral characters can't have charm?
Nate Ruleaux plays the father of the Bride and creates a vivid, interesting portrait of a man happy despite the grudging quality of his farmland soil. Precious Merenu plays a maid and is absolutely wonderful in a minor role that she enriches with vitality and listening well.
Unfortunately, in the second of two acts, Symbols enter. The Moon (Suzelle Palacios) is saved from tedium by a sense of humor at the end of a speech, but Death as a beggar woman (Christina Kelly) is given no such saving grace. The other actors are fine, and some are more than that. The music helps the brief scene changes, and there is some pantomime by three woodcutters that is too muddy to be interesting. The pace for this interlude of Symbols is slowed, (to add significance?) but might be speeded up instead, to get it behind us.
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The heart of the play is a brief knife duel played upstage. This adaptation could have given this duel the dramatic force it deserves, and desperately needs, by lengthening the duel considerably and playing it central stage. With a choreographer (MarianUrbaez) at hand, as well as two musicians (cellist Sonia Matoussova and guitarist George Heathco), and a composer (Miriam Daly), the talents for this were available. This is simply a missed opportunity, but the arc of the play screams for it.
UH presents a complex work by a significant playwright, delivering Lorca's love for his native soil, and his intriguing take on the irrationality of passion, brought to life by stimulating acting and some innovative additions.
Blood Wedding continues through November 3, at UH's Jose Quintero Theatre, 133 Wortham. For information or ticketing, call 713-749-2929 or contact www.uh.edu/class/theatre-and-dance.