Lorca in a Green Dress
New Casa 0101 Theatre | 2102 E. First St., Boyle Heights | Through Aug. 26 | Tickets $15-20 | casa0101.org
The remarkable life and shocking assassination of Spanish playwright-poet Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), are explored in this provocative, surrealistic drama by another renowned playwright, Cuban-American Nilo Cruz (Pulitzer Prize winner for Anna in the Tropics). In conjunction with the Center for Collaboration with the Arts at Whittier College, the Latino-focused Casa 0101 offers a stylishly mounted and generally well-acted production in the company’s lovely and finely equipped new facility near Downtown L.A.
Director Jennifer Sage Holmes brings out the graceful lyricism of the nonlinear script, which focuses more on vividly evocative language and dreamlike imagery than on conventional narration, as it attempts to ponder the life and death of a visionary creative artist, who left the world while in his prime. Lorca was primarily an outcast in his native country, in a culture where homosexuality was reviled and his outspoken stance on political issues was scarcely more popular. He was murdered by fascistic revolutionaries for reasons that perhaps had as much to do with bigotry as politics, shortly prior to the Spanish Civil War.
The play begins right after Lorca (played by Adrian Gonzales) is killed, as the spirit of the playwright is ushered into a sort of purgatory, in a dimension that apparently exists specifically for him. Other souls sharing this sphere represent myriad reflections of the scribe’s inner consciousness, taking him through a meditative journey through his life prior to his transition into the next realm. A youth in bicycle pants (the spirited Josh Domingo) symbolizes Lorca’s growth into manhood. A man in a green dress (amusingly played by Alex Polcyn, who alternates with Edward Padilla) conjures the free-spirited and feminine side of Lorca’s psyche. A fiery flamenco dancer (Alejandra Flores) evokes the darker sides of the playwright’s soul.
The overall ensemble effort is superb, but some performers don’t sustain the focus and energy required in a play driven by mood and texture rather than by conventional dramaturgy. Thankfully, Gonzales provides an anchor for text and incidents that sometimes border on the inaccessible. The actor elicits empathy for the disoriented slain playwright, bringing emotional truth to the material, which lends a sense of coherency to the piece. Holmes’ imaginative staging supports the poetry of the language and the lyricism of Cruz’ concept, allowing us to imagine the sights, sounds and thoughts that Lorca is recalling, through the clever use of props and choreographic elements to suggest physical elements, such as an ocean.
Adding to the arresting mood is flavorful guitar music performed by Gerardo Morales, which includes original Flamenco-style melodies by Christopher Davis, with lyrics by Cruz. Also enhancing the tastefully conceived production are Monica French’s costumes, Rocio Ponce’s artful choreography and Willy Donica’s lighting. —Les Spindle
Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theatre | 5112 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo | Through Aug. 26 | Tickets $30-34 | antaeus.org
While there is nothing cartoonish about director Jessica Kubzansky’s creepily intimate staging of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, like the very best Looney Tunes cartoons, her provocative production can be enjoyed on multiple levels. If you’ve never experienced the Scottish play before, this is a clear, crisp telling, careening with blood and passion to its tragic conclusion; however, if you know the play inside and out, Kubzansky has added surprising touches that will make you consider it anew.
For starters, the play begins with a wordless prologue (not in Shakespeare’s text) in which the Macbeths mourn the death of an infant child, ceremoniously bidding goodbye in the company of the other Scottish thanes and King Duncan. Kubzansky’s suggestion that the couple’s vaulting ambition is in some way filling an emotional void from the loss of a child is a fascinating and humanizing take on characters later described as a “butcher and his fiend-like queen.”
After Macbeth murders Duncan in his sleep, the same actor who played the dead king appears as Seyton, Macbeth’s most loyal lackey. In addition to giving him the famous Porter’s speech, Kubzansky has Seyton—a character whose name is devilishly close to “Satan”—bear witness to Macbeth’s murderous plotting and participate in the killing of Banquo. Whether he is the devil himself or Macbeth’s conscience, this character takes on added meaning in this nuanced version.
And, finally, the witches are not evil conjurers here so much as cynical, world-weary observers, a trio of older women dressed as street urchins who show up (in Macbeth’s imagination?) for the famous banquet scene. Their air of resignation gives the play’s events a tragic inevitability.
As always, Antaeus has two casts. I saw the “Kinsmen,” headed by Bo Foxworth and Ann Noble as the Macbeths. A compact actor who would be ideal casting for John Edwards, Foxworth is powerful, but his focus on anger and fear doesn’t allow us to see the great thane enjoy those moments when he thinks he’s going to get away with it all. Noble is strong and passionate, and finds several opportunities to recall the lost child of the opening pantomime.
Peter Van Norden’s seedy Seyton is a delicious contrast to his avuncular Duncan, and special mention goes to Brian Tichnell (Malcolm) and James Sutorius (Macduff) for making a famously incomprehensible Act Four scene crystal clear and engaging. Sutorius’ reaction to the news of his family’s slaughter is exquisite.
Designer Tom Buderwitz continues to find surprising ways to use the cozy Deaf West space, and Jeremy Pivnick’s evocative lighting combines with John Zalewski’s appropriately unsettling sound and Jessica Olson’s muted, punk/kilt costumes to create the eerie, foggy world of this disturbing tale—a Scottish play for Shakespeare geeks and newbies alike. —Christopher Cappiello