Dallas — On a hot summer day in July 1928, Federico García Lorca was at his home in the Huerta de San Vicente reading the El Defensor de Granada chronicle. He saw an article about a tragic event that occurred two days earlier in Nijar, Almeria, Spain. A wedding had been scheduled at a rural church, but instead of nuptials, the church became the scene of a murder.
Intrigued, Lorca contacted his close friend, actress Margarita Xirgu, to announce he had found the storyline for a new drama.
He finished writing Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre) in 1932 and it was produced the following year. This weekend, Cara Mía Theatre Co., under the direction of David Lozano, opened its production of Blood Wedding at the Latino Cultural Center with the play performed in English with some Spanish. Including this major work as part of its 20th anniversary 2015-2016 was a major decision for Cara Mía, but a risk worth taking. And judging from the opening night’s performance, they have reason to be proud.
In the actual crime, Francisa Cañada Morales was to set to marry Casimiro Perez Pino in the church El Cortijo del Fraile in Nijar. However, the bride was in love with her cousin Curro and on her wedding day, she chose to run away with him. To defend the family honor, the groom’s brother shot and killed the bride’s cousin/lover in the church. It is hard to know which part of this story was the most notorious at the time: that a woman would make such a decision in 1928 Spain or that the murder took place in a church. The combination ensured that the crime and its location, now a historical site, would forever be linked.
Blood Wedding is a tragedy in three acts. It departs from the actual crime at three major points: the bride and groom marry, the groom and the bride’s lover kill each other, and the killings occur in the forest, not in the church.
Blood Wedding is an expressionist play with visible influences from Greek and Shakespearean elements. The foundational strength of Cara Mía’s production is its adherence to and execution of that style within the settings, the characters, the action of the play, and acting style.
All except one of the characters in Lorca’s play are nameless, and representative of a class or attitude. The groom’s mother/Madre (Frida Espinosa-Müller), her son/the groom (Ivan Jasso), neighbor (Lulu Ward), the bride’s lover, Leonardo Felix (R. Andrew Aguilar), his wife (Caroline Dubberly), the bride’s mother (Lorena Davey), the bride (Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso), the bride’s father/Padre (Rodney Garza) and Servant (also played by Lulu Ward). Lorca inserted a character from the grotesque, Beggar Woman (also played by Espinosa-Müller), and a character from the unreal, Moon (Adam Anderson). The bride is actually the last character to enter; we first see her toward the end of the first act.
As the first act opens, we are in the house of the groom’s mother/Madre. She has grave reservations about her son’s impending marriage. She heard from a neighbor that the bride had a relationship with Leonardo Felix, who is related to the man that killed Madre’s husband.
Leonardo has a wife (also the bride’s cousin) and a young child. Upon learning that his lover/the bride is about to marry, Leonardo becomes obsessed with stopping her. He takes out his frustration on his mother-in-law and his wife. Madre hates the Felix family but agrees to meet with the bride and her father before the wedding. Act I ends with the servant revealing a secret, that Leonardo has been visiting the house at night, peering at the bride through a window.
It is in the second act that despite Leonardo’s efforts at dissuasion, the bride marries anyway. Undeterred, Leonardo continues his pursuit and finally convinces her to run away with him. Just a few hours after her wedding, they disappear from the festivities. People are calling for them to dance, but they cannot be found. Leonardo’s wife figures out what is happening and alerts the family. The jilted groom leaves with a friend to find Leonardo and the bride.
The third act is filled with prophesying by Death and Moon, creating an atmosphere that is ripe for murder. Deep in the woods, Leonardo and the groom meet, a fight ensues and the two men kill each other. Word reaches the townspeople and the mourning begins. The bride returns to the church covered in the blood of both men. She is rejected by the groom’s mother and left to steep in her pain, alone.
Expressionist sets are more angular and abstract. The technical collaboration between scenic designer Bob Lavallee and lighting designer Aaron Johansen results in a clean, efficient and aesthetically accurate set that both honors the playwright’s vision and refers to the real-life setting. There is an operatic feel to the large stylized geometric flats that are texturized in a hue very closely resembling that of the actual church in Nijar. Lorca assigned a color to each scene, which is accomplished primarily through lighting. As the flats move to redefine the space for each new setting, little details envisioned by Lorca come into view, such as the faded, almost invisible pink cross that is painted on the wall of the bride’s house.
The ensemble, like crowd characters, move in a synchronized manner. The play opens with characters upstage, moving in slow motion down a rake into an ambiance suggestive of a forest, a foreshadowing. Ensemble Woodcutters recur, particularly during the third act, moving rhythmically in a prelude to the killings. Karen Bower Robinson’s choreography for the wedding festivities brings lightness into the heavy energy being expended in the search for Leonardo and the bride. The folk dances do not feel choreographed but rather they appear as a natural and organic response to a joyful event.
Through Espinosa-Müller and Ward’s performances we can see the mother and neighbor as women that have forged a friendship through surviving. Espinosa-Müller and Ward manage to bring some personality to characters that were stylistically drawn more impersonally. Aguilar is an imposing figure onstage and we are easily persuaded of his capacity for violence. Dubberly is strong in this piece, particularly in resistance to Leonardo, convincing in her refusal to cower under his verbal barrage. Ward finds the humorous moments, and is very funny as the Servant. As the Beggar Woman, Espinosa-Müller is stylistically true to that period. Her makeup and costume (Niki Hernandez Adams) transform her into Death masquerading as a beggar woman. The beggar woman and moon characters speak directly to the audience, the strongest reference to Shakespeare in the play.
Lorca was a formally trained musician, a gifted pianist and composer. He uses music to advance the plot and to break the tension. Dubberly and Davey sing a tender, lyrical lullaby to comfort the child following Leonardo’s outburst. S-Ankh Rasa’s original music punctuates the scenes, providing textural extensions, and that’s in addition to impressive work by sound designer Trey Pendergrass. It is eerily realistic. You’re tempted to look to the right to see the horses that have just arrived outside.
Cara Mía Theatre is one of the few theaters in North Texas that loves mask and stylized theater—and when they’re accomplishing it with this kind of visual poetry, who’s to argue?
» Read our story about Cara Mia's 20th anniversary and looking ahead to future seasons