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Theater Review:

The Hypocrites’ "BLOOD WEDDING" at The Viaduct

BY LUCIA MAURO

Actors typically inhabit a Hypocrites’ production as if they are scaling the heights of a musical composition. Federico Garcia Lorca’s raw and rhythmic drama, "Blood Wedding" – featuring a world-premiere, evocatively stripped bare translation by the late poet Ted Hughes at The Viaduct – is an ideal match for artistic director Sean Graney’s skill at shaping his cast into the human embodiment of harmonious and discordant metaphors.

Lorca, a Spanish activist-playwright who was executed in 1936 for his leftist politics, exhibited a profound connection to death and ritual in his literature. His works are not so much dramas as they are living portraits of human urges squelched by the repressive claws of tradition and/or social order. Therefore, a literal staging of such a sparse play bursting with emotion-rich symbolism would choke the life out of Lorca’s poetry.

Graney has wisely grounded the drama in methodical movement, impeccably orchestrated absurdist abstraction and musical director Bill Carey’s heart-piercing original score (played by three women string musicians off to the side and emblematic of Lorca’s achingly inward "duende" sensibility).

"Blood Wedding" may be awash in archetypes, but its characters are never reduced to stick figures. And Lorca refrains from any moral judgments related to the deadly (or one might say, liberating) choices his characters make. In "Blood Wedding," a young bride living in a poor, isolated wasteland, is betrothed to a sensitive young man whose embittered mother warns him to mind his too-trusting ways. The bridegroom’s father and brother were murdered by a rival family, and his mother lives each day honoring her loved ones’ memories and cursing her enemies.

The bride, on the other hand, tries to fight against her romantic feelings toward another man, Leonardo, she once loved. Leonardo, crazed with love for the bride, cannot tear himself away from her very presence. At home, Leonardo grows even more restless at the sight of his wife, mother-in-law and baby.

All of this simmering rage and passion wells up at the wedding, leading to the bride’s and Leonardo’s escape. But they are tracked down by the bridegroom and the guests. A murder follows – overseen by an anthropomorphic Moon and Death disguised as a beggar woman. But, in the end, Lorca questions the structure of a society that would shackle its inhabitants to unfulfilled destinies. Life to those remaining in this allegorical drama seems more stifling than death.

Over a taut 90 minutes (including an intermission), The Hypocrites create a Vermeer-inspired still-life of oppression and longing (greatly enhanced by Sarah Pace’s artfully mud-streaked costumes). While Graney might be heading in an auteur-like realm (especially his self-conscious pre-show pantomimes), his productions continue to squeeze the essence out of the words and pour it onto a stage, where it manifests itself in shades, textures and varied timbre. A knife purposefully stuck in a loaf of bread almost takes on existentialist dimensions in this philosophic and painterly staging, which never forgets it is tragicomedy enacted in severely streamlined miniature.

Donna McGough delivers a rabidly tense and rock-like performance as the invincible Mother sustained by her faith and her mistrust of humankind. Steve Wilson, who continues to demonstrate a full-bodied range, carries Leonardo beyond brooding to a man unable to resist the gravitational pull of attraction. Dana Green’s bride – costumed in a black-lace wedding gown and veil reminiscent of the Virgin Mary in Good Friday religious processions – touchingly reveals the many facets of her confusion. And Mierka Girten adds a tragic sense of knowing grace to the bride’s loyal servant.

Other fine performances include Stacy Stoltz as Leonardo’s quietly suffering yet forgiving wife, and Mark Stephen as the silently explosive bridegroom. Only Adam S. Moore as the bride’s opportunistic father and Lori Myers as a gossipy neighbor catapult their absurd portrayals into caricature.

The musicians – Jennifer Mullen, Karen Begin and Nicole LeGette – entwine dirges and melodies so ethereal they provoke tears. And Graney’s earthy set, paired with a hardened reddish-sepia lighting by Heather Graff and Rich Peterson, ground Lorca’s extended dramatic poem in the self-ordained and unmoving laws of nature.•

The Hypocrites’ production of "Blood Wedding" runs through February 10 at The Viaduct, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets: $10-$15. Call 312-409-5578 or log onto
www.the-hypocrites.com.

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