The Arts
May 2-8, 2007

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'Bodas de Sangre'

Photograph by Dave Lepori
Love in vein: A bride and groom face an uphill battle in 'Bodas de Sangre.'

Blood Force Trauma

Teatro Visión checks the passionate pulse of Lorca's 'Bodas de Sangre'

By Marianne Messina

WITH A MARRIAGE that "looms like a bull in the ring" and a father-in-law who believes that to get anything out of the earth "you have to punish it, even cry over it," Federico García Lorca's Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), now at Teatro Visión, promises to be grim. But director Mark Valdez has opened it up and let some air in. The young bridegroom, or Novio (Gendell Hernandez), wants to discuss his intended, Novia (Claudia Vásquez), with his mother (VIVIS drew massive applause for this role), but his madre only wants to remind him of the bloody death his father and brother met at the hands (and knives) of the Felixes. It doesn't take long for us to learn that the boy's Novia harbors a secret love for Leonardo Felix. Left with only her hate, the Madre exemplifies the life many women faced in Lorca's early-20th-century Spain, where outward constriction saps the inner fire. "I looked at your father," she tells her son, "and when he died, I looked at the wall." (She's also rather long on self-pity.)

Valdez puts the female characters (except the bride-to-be) behind masks. (Designed by Hugo E. Carbajál, who also plays Leonardo Felix, these uncanny masks lean toward buffo rather than highbrow ceramics). In wearing a mask, the Madre becomes partly a type, an energy or a dueño. Precision acting from VIVIS keeps the Madre in the rich gray area between types and people, tragedy and comedy, at the same time making her much easier to laugh at. Just as the blood has many meanings for Lorca, the masks in this Teatro Visión production aren't just about lifeless, faceless existence. They're a source of amusement; they help situate the story in the surreal, they keep the production lighter longer and they capture the twilight tone of Lorca's poetry.

Also masked, the hilarious Rosa Maria Escalante transitions between two very different kinds of funny from the tight-lipped gossip to the Novia's comically lovable servant. Valdez has cleared space for Lorca's dense, poetic and multileveled text by maintaining a relatively bare stage—a few chairs flanked by versatile gray set panels, one with a doorway. But he chooses props that both locate and suggest (a clothes basket for example), and he maximizes the set pieces. Seated far apart when the Madre starts to wheedle for intel on her son's Novia, she and her cunning neighbor (Escalante) trundle their chairs closer and closer together as the tidbits get juicier. The scene is as comical as an old puppet show.

Along with crafty humor, this production is shot through with the spirit of poetry and spectacle. The guitar duo, Carlos and Tomás Montoya, sit to the side of the stage, accompanying lullabies (oh, those deadly lullabies). Wonderful puppetry presents empty despair with absurd humor. Two black-clad handlers usher in a haunting little girl marionette who asks hard questions, sometimes to the sounds of broken glass (a favorite Lorca image) by sound designer Andrew Hohenner. Strolling through the wedding party comes the pink-dressed twinnequin, a mannequin on wheels shuttled about by her similarly dressed human twin. At the wedding reception, Valdez and lighting designer Steven B. Mannshardt have set a kind of rotating assortment of shadow puppets to fly across the scrim as wedding guests dance in another room.

On the dark side, the poetic first scene of Act 3 opens with a stunning moon that glows from the rear scrim blotched with shadows in a shadowy sky. Stalagmite silhouettes of barren trees spear the luminous expanse. In this ambience, fateful forces are personified in a white masked moon figure (David Termenal who also plays Novia's agreeable, industrious father) and a beggar crone (VIVIS). Unseen behind her shawl the crone carries before her a shadow body with twiglike hands, as if she is so disappeared she has grown a phantom mediator to interact with the world. Entirely in Lorca's native Spanish (with wondrous English supertitles), this production provides a perfect ambience to digest all that Lorca has to offer. Even if you can't get behind the fatalism or Lorca's romanticizing of primal lust (voiced by the woodcutters: "They're following their blood"; "Her body was meant for him"), this production compiles so precise and compact an impression that in the final scene, when the Novia takes off the Madre's mask, the sense of release in the air is as tangible as a live pulse.

Bodas de Sangre, a Teatro Visión production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $7-$40. (408.272.9926)

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