~by Brian Sonia-Wallace
This is a tough play. Its language is gorgeous, much taken right from the pen of Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet and this play’s protagonist and muse. But its structure is sometimes infuriating, as Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz decides that the best way to pay his hero homage is with a fragmented tour of the poet’s life, delivered by workers in Lorca’s own private room in purgatory. The effect is attention-grabbing at first, as we are re-played the man’s death over and over and begin to understand the rules of the room. As the play progresses, though, it becomes evident that the drama of Lorca’s afterlife pales in comparison to the drama of his life as a liberal homosexual intellectual in Fascist Spain. With such a rich narrative provided, the existential dreamlike quality of Lorca in a Green Dress is interesting in its own right but only scratches the surface of the story it tells.
The story goes roughly thus: after death, important people have 40 days in their own private purgatories to make peace with their lives and move on. After death, Lorca finds himself in such a purgatory room, draped in white. The room comes complete with ‘actors’, other dead people who take on aspects of the Lorca’s personality and act out scenes from his life to review. The choice, we discover, is whether to make peace with life and go forward into death or whether to return to the world and wander, invisible and forlorn, as a ghost. Lorca in a Green Dress hinges on this choice, sadly skipping over much of Lorca’s complex relationship with Salvador Dali and controversial politics to focus on his relationship with the anonymous dead playing versions of himself in the afterlife. While there is something to be said for the playwright’s hero worship, which tries to break the poet down into his component parts, the ‘meta’ nature of the purgatory’s ‘play within a play’ and the lack of any other real characters with a bond to the protagonist weaken the emotional resonance of the piece.
Director Jennifer Sage Holmes stages the production well, with touches of dance and whimsy and a strong ensemble feel that mostly clarifies, rather than obfuscates, the text. Adrian Gonzales is a strong Lorca, understated and sympathetic throughout, while the five actors playing the various aspects of his personality bring out the edgier aspects of his character. Of these the sensual side (the eponymous Lorca in a Green Dress, played alternatingly by Alex Polcyn and Edward Padilla) and the childlike side (Josh Domingo) are the only two who are really explored and develop relationships with the title character, while the rest fade into a more background ensemble role. The show also has a strong musical presence, with a guitar player (Gerardo Morales) onstage at all times playing original music by Christopher Davis and accompanied by a floor-stomping flamenco dancer (Alejandra Flores).
In the new Casa 0101 space, it seems impossible to have a play with bad lighting, and Willy Donica’s design does not disappoint. I was, however, less impressed by the set, which consisted of a few platforms and white curtains that felt more like sparse rehearsal furniture than a fully realized set. I’m all for minimalism, but this needed something more—a motif, even just a unified color scheme, to make it feel more like an empty room and less like an empty stage.
Casa 0101′s tradition of presenting a free art exhibition with the play was upheld here, with stunning local works of surrealism playing with the boundaries between life and death, human and animal, and male and female. The gallery set the mood nicely for the play. The ‘local’ touch is also present, with cheap tickets for Boyle Heights residents and, surprisingly, information about which neighbourhoods in LA each of the performers represent. Lorca in a Green Dress was not my favorite thing ever, but it provided an evening of beautiful language and thought-provoking abstraction.
Lorca in a Green Dress is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm, July 20-August 26, 2012.
The New Casa 0101 Theater is located at 2102 E. First Street, Boyle Heights, CA 90033.
Ticket price: $20 general admission, $17 students, seniors & groups (10+), $15 Boyle Heights residents with identification.