Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday Night in Central Park: SummerStage presents Mando Alvardo's "Sangre" (adapted from Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding") at Rumsey Playfield

After the great Puerto Rican Traveling Theater/Teatro SEA show we saw ended around 7:20 p.m. we rushed to catch the E train at 50th Street, transferred for the 6 train at Lexington Avenue/51st Street, and walked from the 68th Street/Hunter College station to the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, just getting there in time to find a space on the artifical turf so we could see a haunting contemporary New York adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding: Mando Alvardo's gritty, raw and intense Sangre.

In Blood Wedding, a tragic tale of a peasant wedding, Garcia Lorca created a darkly symbolic landscape dominated by his twin obsessions: passion and death. As Michiko Kakutani wrote decades ago in the New York Times, "Employing verse and music and spectacle, it is more tableau than drama, more surrealistic parable than conventional narrative."

The storyline of the 1933 play seems simple: The bride, still in love with her now-married old flame Leonardo, dutifully goes off to the wedding with her fiance, but then runs off with Leonardo after the ceremony, fleeing into the countryside. The two men defend their honor in a knife duel, and just as the Mother (of the groom) predicted at the start of the play, the outcome is that the men must die and the women must weep.

Except for Leonardo, the characters have generic names: Bride, Groom, Mother, Father (of the Bride), Wife (of Leonardo), three Woodcutters who serve as a kind of Greek chorus. And symbolic characters include the Moon and Death. It's not a conventional but a haunting fable and bitter idyll that has notoriously impeded both English translations and traditional stagings.

We once saw a particularly grotesque college production, and so it was a pleasure to see Mando Alvardo's shelving a lot of Lorca's devices, reworking the play, using contemporary New York urban language in both Spanish and English (mostly English; a monolingual Spanish speaker might not have understood everything). Never self-consciously poetic, the language still managed to convey some of the almost hypnotic delicacy of Garcia Lorca's. Hats off to Mando Alvardo for that, not an easy task.

Sangre was imaginatively staged by director Jerry Ruiz as a fast-moving panoply of crowded sidewalks, corner bodegas, vibrating el platforms and ominous shadows, with a video screen of titles and images of the sepia-toned streets of the South Bronx and the grittier sections of Manhattan providing both mood and commentary at all times.

The Moon here is Moon, a barrio philosopher, sometime beggar, and smartass homeboy who turns up in a variety of scenes -- including at a dinner at Momufuku that goes awry with the engaged couple and their single parents. Death is a woman, as Lorca wrote her, but of course this is a South Bronx angel, and there's a Detective, a bit of a representative of death himself, as the play unfolds backwards from the aftermath of the fatal encounter between Leonardo (usually Leo here) and the Groom, like a police procedural with a feverish, operatic pitch.

The acting was generally austere, although some of the actors had wonderfully comic moments. We're hampered by the lack of a program -- if there was one, we got there too late to get it, and we've been unable to find a complete cast list online. The Bronx Free Press had the best coverage (the only good pics here are courtesy of that newspaper; our cellphone camera is useless after dusk), so we're able to mention some of the actors.

We were especially impressed with Annie Henk as Ama, the groom's mother, who seems both contemptuous and protective of her son; she's relentless and fatalistic, but also cynical and suspicious of everyone -- with good reason, it turns out. "B," the bride, played by Audrey Esparza, and the brooding Leo, played explosively by Jose Joaquin Perez, convey their passion with an almost scary ferocity.

Bernardo Cubria was a dutiful Marido (Groom) and seemed the most self-knowing of the main characters of the tragedy: he's a South Bronx yuppie, reluctantly taking over his family's business after both his father and older brother were murdered by Leo's relatives. He's not quite blind to what's happening, and in the end, he falls victim to his community's standards of behavior for a man.

David Anzuelo made a weary, stolid, seen-it-all Detective, and his bizarre final gesture can be read as either as heedless compassion or a wildly cynical reaction to the catastrophes around him. Hovering above and bestride the whole shebang is the (almost) all-knowing Moon, performed with extraordinary grace by Carlo Alban, adrift yet a part of a much harsher neighborhood than Sesame Street, for which the actor is best known.

Other members of the talented cast (we are not quite sure which roles they played) were JJ Perez, Emma Ramos, David Anzuelo, Mel Nieves, Elka Rodriguez, Rufio Lerma, and a very funny Sarena Kennedy as a number of characters. There was occasional sound distortion that did get under control, and we noticed a rat scurrying along the periphery of the elevated stage (far from the actors, but a little too close to us in the front of the audience). At one point, unexpected and inappropriate shrieking laughter erupted just behind us, and we were informed that while we watched the play, we apparently didn't notice a raccoon that ran beside us.

Hopefully, that's a testament to the quality of Sangre, a venturesome theater piece which we are very grateful to have seen. We think Garcia Lorca would have approved.

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