Fererico Garcia Lorca’s Spanish classic is moved to 1930s California in the Lookingglass production.
Lookingglass Theatre's production of Blood Wedding is a reimagining of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1933 Spanish masterpiece, with an English-language translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata. The three-act play takes Lorca's poetic themes of loss, forbidden desire, and duende — "A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained," and moves them to the prosaic Central Valley of California during the Depression.
The Bridegroom (Chance Bone), last son of a family of vinters, is engaged to the Bride (Helen Sadler), the 22-year-old daughter of a hemp farmer (Troy West). As one might surmise from the play's title, their wedding is not destined to be a happy one. The Bridegroom's mother (Christine Mary Dunford) is fearful of anything that could separate her from her last living child, warning him against the passionate violence that took the lives of her husband and her oldest son. The town gossips won't forget the Bride's sordid prior engagement to the dangerous Leonardo (Kareem Bandealy), an itinerant worker now married to the Bride's cousin (Atra Asdou). Before the wedding day is over, secrets are revealed, passions are awakened, and, of course, blood is shed.
In the midst this passion, Dunford is magnetic as the Bridegroom's Mother, who lives constantly in a combination of fear and simmering fury, setting a tone of apprehension from the beginning. Bone is charming as the naive Bridegroom, whose affection for his Bride, played delicately by Sadler, lends the play a rare touch of lightness. Sadler is best when she's fretting or fussing with her replacement mother figure, the nosy Maid, played by Eva Barr. The two women create a bond that is among the most believable onstage at Blood Wedding. Unfortunately, the connection between the Bride and her hot-headed ex-lover Leonardo, the powerful Bandealy, is less potent. These two should share an all-consuming flame, something that almost justifies all the chaos they leave in their wake, but instead they appear to be two unstable people who have impulsively latched onto each other.
Grim is the first word that comes to mind for the Dust Bowl's physical reimaging in this production. Harsh light cuts across a desolate stage, casting shadows against a clapboard background with a patchwork of repairs. The set, designed by the director, Daniel Ostling, shifts organically from scene to scene, distinguishing between various houses and a moonlight forest, while maintaining a dusty, sepia-toned malaise, assisted by lighting design by T.J. Gerckens. Ostling's background in design was apparent in his direction; his use of the Lookingglass space is fantastic, both in the homestead scenes and in the dreamy moments in the forest. Josh Horvath's sound design was prominent, with otherworldly clangs and cracks signaling the transition into a more abstract Act 3. Appropriately, the costumes by Mara Blumenfeld included not only fashions of the 1930s, but also older pieces from the turn of the century that the isolated characters would no doubt keep and repair through the decades — most notably, the Bridegroom's Mother's exquisite Edwardian formalwear.
Despite the details of the physical production, Ostling's choice to remove Blood Wedding from its historical roots in Spain also removed the cultural backbone from the show, where it plays out with less urgency when set in Steinbeck's world of desperation and hard choices. The bright side to the Americana setting is the original music by Rick Sims, sung and played by the cast on piano and steel guitar. The folk music is sometimes foreboding, sometimes joyful, and always performed earnestly by the cast.
This production of Blood Wedding is at its best when setting the stage for what will come, drawing the audience into a sense of unease, as foreboding as the piano that is hoisted high above the actors' heads. As the drama starts to unfold, though, the action cannot live up to the immense anticipation, and the poetry of the language is at odds with the grit of the world we see onstage.