Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
It is great to have the presentation of a modern classic in a bold new version. Federico Garcia Lorca, Spanish poet and playwright, had an “abiding insistence on the interdependence of love and death,” according to one critic. This is clear in the current production of Blood Weddings/Bodas de Sangre , at Buddies in Bad Times. The show is a remounting of the 2015 collaboration between Modern Times Stage Company, led by Iranian-Canadian director Soheil Parsa (director choreographer of this play) and Aluna Theatre, a Latin-Canadian theatre company whose Artistic Director is Beatriz Pizano.
Lorca, born in Andalusia in 1898, was influenced by artists like Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel as well as by traditional Spanish, European, and Moorish culture. In August 1936, one month after the Spanish Civil War started, he was arrested and summarily executed by Franco’s right-wing forces, for both his liberal political views and his homosexuality. This translation of Blood Weddings (Blood Wedding in the 1933 original) is by Langston Hughes – the Black U.S. poet, subject of a play recently reviewed in this column about his own political activity. The script was adapted by Melia Bensussen.
“Blood” here has a double meaning – passionate desire and passionate killing. The play is set in rural, tradition-bound Andalusia. From the first scene, in which the Mother; beautifully played by Pisano, warns her son not to take a knife to the vineyard, we feel the impending tragedy. Mother is still grieving over the murder of her husband and older son many years before, by members of the Felix family. The Boy, played in a likeable, low-key way by Derek Kwan, makes light of her fears and talks about his intention to marry his sweetheart, who lives with her father some distance away. Mother learns from a neighbour that the girl has had a previous love; this is bad enough – but it turns out the man is Leonardo Felix, a relative of the murderers. The Mother decides to give her blessing anyway, and we meet the young bride, Bahareh Yaraghi, and her father, Steven Bush, who wants his daughter to make a successful marriage.
The Bride seems nervous– and we soon learn why. Leonardo, now married to her cousin (with one baby and another on the way) still has strong feelings for her, riding his horse to her home at night. She has feelings for him, too, although she makes an effort to marry someone with whom she can live calmly and raise children. She describes the Boy as “cool water” which could nourish her, but succumbs to the “burning fire” of her love for Leonardo; played in a violent, somewhat brutal way by Carlos Gonzalez-Vito. The scene between Leonardo and the Girl as she dresses for her wedding begins to reveal their struggle with desire, but they could have shown more intimacy, even at this point in the play. Leonardo’s long-suffering, proud wife is gracefully played by Sochi Fried; her mother is Lara Arabian. The two women sing a lullaby that foreshadows the coming drama.
The wedding takes place – with lively dancing – but the underlying tension explodes when Leonardo and the Girl run off together. As the scene shifts from indoors to outdoors, , the directing and acting also change tone. We enter the forest at night, as the young groom and his friend hunt for the runaways. These scenes, with an embodied Moon (also Fried) and Death as a beggar woman (Carla Melo), become too heavy with expressionistic symbolism, though it is important to see the contrast of Nature (both the natural world and human nature) with the social forces of honour, order, and domesticity. At the end, as the women mourn their loved ones, the play takes on the starkness of Greek tragedy.
Another mood shift happened early on, when the directing veered too much toward comedy, exaggerating the stylized, serious speeches. For me, this disrupted the flow. One example: Jani Lauzon was excellent as the caring, elderly servant – but her scurrying around the stage was too comic for the rest of the role. (Lauzon also plays the neighbour). Chiamaka G. Ugwu, Mina James, and Arabian do fetching ensemble work in various supporting roles.
I liked the way the Trevor Schwellnus’s set makes full use of the stage space, with high window panels that sometimes reflect the action. The design was enhanced by marvelously shifting lighting effects, also by Schwellnus, and Thomas Ryder Payne’s evocative, dramatic sound design.
Blood Weddings/Bodas de Sangre runs at Buddies in Bad Times [12 Alexander St.] through March 19th.