The opening-night hoopla for Blood Wedding started in the lobby of Stages Repertory Theatre, where it seemed everyone was ready to swoon over Federico García Lorca's famous play of passion and poetry. Many theatergoers arrived (some in limos) "dressed for the occasion," as one woman gushed to another. They were all done up in Latin-style finery: fringed black-and-red silk shawls and flamenco ruffled skirts. The air practically blazed with excitement, champagne and pretty, smiling women. Lorca himself would likely have loved it. Although he died a martyr to freedom in 1936 -- he was shot in the lonely Spanish countryside by the fascist regime who deemed his work dangerous -- he was also a man who adored a good party. Indeed, the writer many regard as the greatest Spanish playwright of the 20th century was known to enjoy an occasional walk on the wild side.

Unfortunately for this production, and perhaps for Lorca's memory, the party was the best part of opening night at Stages. When the show started, the energy fizzled and the fire of Lorca's poetry sputtered in the hands of a cast not quite up to the rigors of the great playwright's language.

Lorca's tale turns around three young lovers: A beautiful raven-haired bride (Patricia Duran) decides to marry a sensible groom (Pierre Dubois) even though her heart belongs to the narrow-hipped and darkly sexy Leonardo (Pablo Bracho). Of course, Leonardo long ago gave in to family pressure and married another woman. Filled with bitter regret, he storms through his loveless marriage, not even caring about his infant son. When the bride and Leonardo meet again at her wedding ceremony, their desire flames anew. Even among family and friends, the young lovers can't take their eyes off each other. It's hardly a surprise to discover that they have escaped into the shadows, leaving their enraged spouses behind. What follows is a long and violent chase through the night-blind countryside that will surely end in death.

This is high tragedy, often told in rhyming couplets that Langston Hughes has translated into some rather difficult poetry. It's easy for lines such as "If I live to be a hundred, I won't talk of anything else but my husband's death" to come off as overwrought melodrama, which they often do with this cast as directed by Rob Bundy. The groom's mother, Amira Gongora Marin, holds her handsome head high as she speaks these lines, but her delivery is so strident and brittle that she fails to capture the depth of maternal rage and pain that Lorca has written into the character.

Likewise, Duran's Bride is much too petulant, pouting and shrill to be the quintessential female lover who burns with the primitive passion that would drive a woman to give up everything for one night with the man she loves. When she recoils at her groom's touch, Duran comes off like a spoiled cheerleader rebuffing the class geek rather than a deeply erotic woman who's just made the mistake of a lifetime. Lovely as Duran is, it's hard to see why either of these men chases after the rather coldhearted character she creates.

The men of the cast don't do much better. Only Bracho's Leonardo summons up the beginnings of that mystical sexuality that Lorca's script tries to conjure, the sort that can make an otherwise decent man do very bad things.

Even the usually gifted designer Kirk Markley fails to do much for Lorca's impressionistic script. The cream-colored hacienda-style set that towers over the stage has all the soul of a '70s faux-Spanish apartment complex hunkering on some long stretch of concrete outside L.A. Sometimes the backdrop boils a crimson red, but even this trick of light fails to fire up the passion.

One has to admire Bundy's choice for Stages' season opener. On paper, the project sounds terrific: Produce one of the most renowned Spanish plays of the 20th century for a city that has one of the most vibrant Latino communities in the country. Certainly the audience came to the theater excited by the idea. But judging by the man who was snoozing on my right and the man who didn't clap on my left, I'd say that many left disappointed.

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Lee Williams