Chicago Theatre Review
A Modern-day Greek Tragedy
Blood Wedding – Lookingglass Theatre
Part of what’s often termed his Rural Trilogy, together with “Yerma” and “The House of Bernarda Alba,” Garcia Lorca’s poetic, tragic drama about doom and deceitfulness feels almost epic. The playwright uses marriage, one of the pinnacles of the life cycle, as his primary plot device. He also employs inclusion of birth and death, as well. In this drama, Lorca pits Fate against Nature. The playwright also throws in themes of choice and deception amid his story, elements which ultimately result in tragedy within the passage from childhood to adulthood.
Most of Lorca’s characters have titles, instead of names. We have the Bride, the Bridegroom, the Bridegroom’s Mother, The Bride’s Father, but we also have Leonardo and Leonardo’s Wife. It’s telling that the playwright gives a name only to the antagonist of this tale. The story opens when the Bridegroom’s Mother discovers an alarming fact. She learns that her son’s bride-to-be once enjoyed a torrid relationship with Leonardo, a member of the clan responsible for murdering her husband, the Bridegroom’s father. Leonardo is now married with an infant son, but he and the Bride-to-be are still passionately attracted to each other. When she sees Leonardo and his wife at the wedding ceremony, the Bride retires to her room. Soon afterward, Leonardo’s Wife announces in horror that she’s seen her husband leaving the party on horseback and, it’s discovered, that the Bride is missing, as well.
While the wedding party searches the forest for the runaway lovers, they are discovered secretly enjoying a moment of forbidden passion. The Bride, then, urges her lover to flee. However, the Bridegroom and Leonardo finally encounter each other and their tragic end is inevitable. The play ends when the Bridegroom’s Mother, overflowing with rage and anguish, confronts the Bride. She has returned with her wedding gown stained with the blood of both of her lovers. The Bride will either be put to death for her sins or be sentenced to live the rest of her life in guilt and shame. In the end it’s all the same.
Daniel Ostling has found in Garcia Lorca a playwright whose voice speaks to him like “an artistic blood brother.” As such, Mr. Ostling has directed a production that’s filled with much of his own matching passion and insight. This play, which bears a strong resemblance to the simplistic style of ancient Greek drama, has been transferred to rural California during the Great Depression. Ostling saw parallels between rural Spain and America during the turbulent 1930’s. He recognized that Lorca’s poetry is about everyday workers everywhere, whose relationship with the earth and nature mold their very existence. The locale doesn’t matter as much, but staging his production in this way offers a story for American audiences that’s more relevant. The play is no longer about a group of people from long ago and far away; it’s about the salt of the earth, blue collar workers who live right here and right now. It’s about us.
Christine Mary Dunford is commanding and mesmerizing as the Bridegroom’s Mother. A longtime ensemble member of this theatre company, Ms. Dunford is electrifying. As this tortured, pitiful character she rips into her role with vigor and vengeance. Ms. Dunford is, in a word, masterful. Versatile Chicago actor Kareem Bandealy is excellent as the seething, passionate Leonardo. As he vehemently spits out Lorca’s words the actor adds yet another layer to this lustful lothario, employing body language as his subtext. Mr. Bandealy has two mighty worthy sparing partners in the lusty Helen Sadler, making her Lookingglass debut as the Bride, and Atra Asdou, as Leonardo’s desperate Wife. Both women beautifully hold their own in every scene with Bandealy and their passion and heat rise palpably out of every dramatic moment. Chance Bone makes a strong, handsome, empathetic Bridegroom; and Troy West impresses with his majestic portrayal of the Bride’s Father. Both actors preside over the play with dignity and stature.
Daniel Ostling continues his vision of Lorca’s work with his own stark, vertical, wooden scenic design. A floor and precipice of cobbled, weathered, wooden planks that harbor moving walls, doorways and a deep underground well, all work nicely in tandem with TJ Gerckens’ incredibly moody lighting and Mara Blumenfeld’s lovely period costumes. The entire production has the rural look and sound of an American classic, although this story is universal in scope.
In Daniel Ostling’s exciting, reimagined vision of this classic play, audiences will more closely identify with this stark, dramatic work, now set in Depression Era California. Garcia Lorca’s story becomes relatable, his characters more profound, yet they still feel larger-than-life, much like the heroes and villains of Greek drama. Deception and lies challenge the cycle of life and Fate alone is left to carry out reward and punishment to the mere mortals who challenge order. In a powerful production that leaves its audience breathless, Lookingglass Theatre has once again brought new life and relevance to an old classic.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 2-April 24 by Lookingglass Theatre, located in the Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com