The head and the heart—why can't these two be friends? Federico Garcia Lorca tries to get the two of them in a room together to talk things out in Blood Wedding. But as the title suggests, Lorca isn't exactly a neutral mediator, what with his obsession with primal tradition and tragic inevitability. This is the reason no one asks Don King to referee a boxing match.
Ten Thousand Things has stripped the show down to a minimal assemblage of props and costumes (no great surprise here), but they haven't exactly dialed down the emotional volume. This strategy is apparent from the opening scene, when Bridegroom (Kurt Kwan) operatically extols the virtues of his bride-to-be to his mother (Barbra Berlovitz). Mom admits "the girl is good," but much prefers to rant about the evils of knives and the countrified bloodlust that has robbed her of her husband and another son. Not everyone can be a forgiver or a forgetter.
Berlovitz, who is captivating here, may have learned a little something about grudges at Jeune Lune, where feuding has been rampant in recent seasons. Indeed, this is her first appearance away from Jeune Lune's stage in 28 years. Her performance has a steely edge to match the blades of her character's obsessions. This is especially true as Berlovitz acts out a scene involving a prying neighbor by voicing both roles, with the villager embodied by a tiny puppet. (As designed by Alison Heimstead, these figures range in size from the tiny to the half-human, and bear eerily blank features.)
We next meet an already married couple, Wife (Maggie Chestovich) and Leonardo (Danny Salmen). Chestovich is earnest and wounded as spouse to the distracted Leonardo, who has taken to riding his horse to all ends of the earth for undisclosed reasons. (Kwan, by this time, is behind a puppet as Leonardo's hectoring mother-in-law.) Leonardo, preoccupied and angry, spends an inordinate amount of time staring into the distance. (Was Lorca familiar with modern optometry? We'll never know.)
We learn what, or whom, Leonardo is seeking when the Bridegroom and his mother travel to meet his betrothed. The Bride (Shá Cage) has plenty of other things on her mind as well, and by now we've picked up on a couple of allusions and surmised that the Bride and Leonardo were once lovers—and still would be, if societal convention and happenstance hadn't conspired against their ardor.
Salmen plays the Bride's Father from behind a mustachioed mask, and does adept work at conveying the way the old blowhard holds forth on blood and togetherness. Here director Juliette Carrillo's cast draws distinctions with great facility. Berlovitz is skeptical and arid, holding her reactions in reserve. Kwan plays his role flat and guileless, as though the idea that something might be amiss is one that he will not fully entertain. Cage's Bride, by contrast, is determined to hide the tempest inside her, like an addict determined to stay on the wagon—while selling Jell-O shots on a methadone line.
If this were Tony and Tina's wedding, I would definitely refuse to hold my peace. But it's Lorca, and it's a blood wedding, which follows a different script. Despite a simple and competent staging, and no lack of abandon, this pivotal scene doesn't find Salmen and Cage connecting as they might. In fairness, though, their work does leave you with a reminder that those embroiled in the most unabashed romance are often chasing what they see on the back of their eyelids when they dream at night, as much as the object of their passion.
I saw this play almost two weeks ago, at a women's correctional facility (full disclosure: I helped the company carry their stuff inside. They promised in return to spring me when the show was over.) The audience was duly rapt, swept up in Lorca's archetypal scenario and the capable hands of the company. As for the modernist symbolism at the end, the production's lack of visual trickery left the poetry to its own devices, and fell on receptive if somewhat confused ears. But after such devastating tragedy, I guarantee everyone was at least listening.