by Lynn on March 16, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Federico García Lorca.
Translated by Guillermo Verdecchia
Directed by Erin Brandenburg
Set and Costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie
Sound by Richard Feron
Composed by Andrew Penner
Cast: Anna Atkinson
Deborah Drakeford
Diane D’Aquila
Oliver Dennis
Caroline Gillis
Hailey Gillis
Celia Green
Gordon Hecht
Richard Lam
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Colin Palangio
Andrew Penner
Sophia Walker

A play full of blood and passion is given a production that is bloodless and stolid.

The Story. In the play there is only one character who has a name: Leonardo. The rest are known by a title or a ‘designation.’ There is to be a wedding. The Groom loves the Bride and she is desperate to requite his love but really can’t. A few years before she and Leonardo were in love with each other. He courted her for three years. They had a passion that left them helpless to deny their love and desire. But then he left her. Two years later Leonardo married the Bride’s cousin. They had a baby. By all accounts this is not a happy marriage. The wife loves Leonardo but she knows that his love is elsewhere and she is unable to change that.

Now Leonardo’s former girlfriend (the Bride) is marrying a successful farmer. Leonardo and his wife are invited to the wedding. The passion between Leonardo and the Bride is ignited again (as if it ever waned) and they give into their desires with disastrous results.

Besides rippling passion, Blood Wedding is a revenge play. The Groom’s Mother is resigned to her son marrying but is not quite sure of the girl he’s marrying. Something in the back of her memory comes up. Before her son, the Bride was in love with Leonardo. The Groom’s Mother hates Leonardo’s family because they were responsible for the death of her husband and other son. She only wants revenge. The Groom is her only remaining child and she wants to protect him.

The Production. Set designer Anahita Dehbonehie has designed a simple enough set with an outline in shadow of a slatted fence on the stage and narrow panels hanging down from the flies. The furnishings are spare: two chairs, a table. A band (violin, guitar, double bass, piano and a saw—you read that right) is stage right. The band is microphoned and overpowers the production. To add further concern, Andrew Penner’s score and songs foreshadow the angst of characters and events that will happen. Surely that’s the whole point of the play—to tell the story and to establish the characters on its own terms. In this context the band and the music are an unnecessary distraction.

The Groom’s mother sets the tone and Diane D’Aquila is formidable in the role. She gives a chilling performance of a woman ground down by grief and revenge. D’Aquila is dangerous and unflinching. Also giving a strong, passionate performance is Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster as the Wife. The emotional upheaval, loneliness and despair are so clear in this performance. The Wife is in love with her husband. Leonardo, but knows he is still in love with his previous girlfriend (the Bride). The Wife can demand he be with her, and momentarily it’s fine, but the Wife knows she doesn’t have a chance against Leoanardo’s true love.

As Leonardo, Colin Palangio seems merely ill-tempered rather than consumed with angst, emotional upheaval and pining for the Bride. As the Bride, Hailey Gillis acquits herself well when she realizes she can’t stay with her Groom and is driven to run off with the dangerous love of her life, Leonardo. Gordon Hecht plays the Groom with an understated sweetness and decency.

Erin Brandenburg is the young director of Bloor Wedding. I have been impressed with her direction of small shows for Summerworks and Hatch in the past. In those instances Brandenburg has showed a keen sense of imagery and simplicity to tell the story. But this production is perhaps the biggest production she has tackled so far and I think she’s missed the mark, choosing concept over supported substance in the play.

When the Bride and Leonardo go missing from the wedding, the community searches for them in the forest. This is created by several strips of material floating down from the flies. Characters manoeuvre around the many strips but actually seeing who they are is problematic because of the flutter of suspended material.

Seriously problematic is a scene in the same forest with an old Beggar, symbolic of Death (Diane D’Aquila). Brandenburg places both the Groom and Leonardo, upstage centre, to finally have it out. The Groom has a knife to revenge his family’s honour. But then the old Beggar stands downstage with her back to the audience, raises her caped arms, as if she is a great winged bird, and completely blocks our view of the struggle going on upstage between the Groom and Leonardo. Beyond frustrating. In various translations of the play, the struggle is off stage followed by screams off stage to inform us of the terrible result. If the director puts the knife fight on stage, doesn’t it make sense for the audience to actually see it?

Blood Wedding is full of passion and boiling emotions. Brandenburg’s production just seems so static and laboured.

Comment. Blood Wedding is Federico García Lorca’s most celebrated play. García Lorca has filled his play with searing poetry which has been respected in Guillermo Verdecchia’s thoughtful translation.

The play is full of passion, raging emotions, blood and foreboding. Needless to say, it’s not your ordinary wedding. And truth to tell, the play is not about the wedding. It’s about misplaced ardour; unrequited love, revenge and the denying of true feelings with disastrous results. Too often a director comes up with a concept that overpowers the play rather than illuminates it. Unfortunately that’s what we have here.

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents:

Opened: March 15, 2016.
Closes: April 9, 2016.
Cast: 13, 5 men, 8 women.
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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