There's nary a drop of blood on the stage, or on the costumes, but the mind and the emotions are soaked with it after watching Upstream Theater's production of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding," which opened at the Kranzberg Theatre last night, to run through Oct. 23. It's dazzling theater, featuring Philip Boehm's always spot-on direction and some brilliant acting.
And as a personal aside, being part of the full houses at Stray Dog's "The Who's Tommy" on Thursday, and at Upstream last night, was a very heartening sight.
The play, which had its premiere in 1933, is a tragedy, a look at jealousy, at physical attraction that overcomes good manners and good sense, even life itself. Lorca himself was murdered by Gen. Francisco Franco's rebel soldiers three years later. There are parables about love, marriage, murder most foul, and the Upstream cast throws a net around the audience, dragging us along by the force of their passion and the tones of a Spanish guitar, played brilliantly by Lliam Christy, who keeps the mood right and underlines much of what is occurring from start to finish.
Start to finish, by the way, is a gripping 90 minutes, without intermission, trimmed from Lorca's original three acts. The translation is by the great Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, and the adaptation by Melia Bensussen. It takes place in and around a wedding, and except for Leonardo, the catalyst (J. Samuel Davis), the characters have generic names. We open with Mother (Elizabeth Ann Townsend), still mourning her murdered husband and son, discussing an upcoming marriage between her other son, Bridegroom (Michael James Reed) and Bride (Julie Layton). But Bride still carries a torch for Leonardo, and while we are pretty sure how this will play out, we don't know positively until the final blackout.
Acting laurels can easily be draped over the entire cast, with the most outstanding work coming from Davis, Linda Kennedy, Layton, Peter Mayer and Townsend (that's an alphabetical list, by the way).
Davis, one of our local acting treasures, is fierce and angry, with a long history of sexual success and an obviously lengthy relationship with Bride. Their passion is evident and Layton, whose best work shows a aura of sensuality and danger, plumbs those depths here, sometimes ethereal as a wood sprite, mostly ready to be a Juliet and die in a blaze of glory. Kennedy continues to amaze me with her depth and her ability to change a mood -- or a character -- in a moment. She takes four roles here -- Mother's neighbor, Mother's servant, Beggar and Death -- and she totally inhabits all of them. I've been watching Kennedy nearly 40 years, but this is one of her best performances, her characters coquettish or tragic, separate and yet still linked, her silver braid curled around her head like a crown. Townsend's husky voice wraps itself around a devout woman whose life has been blended into her husband's until they were like a pair of conjoined twins and the pain at his loss still grips her. Mayer is the Father of Bride, and in the final scenes, his face dabbed with white makeup, he is the Moon, observing the tragedy, illuminating it and commenting upon it.
Others in the cast, contributing to the splended ensemble work, are Kelsea Victoria McLean as Wife to Leonardo; Jef Awada and Aaron Orion Baker as wedding guests and wandering woodcutters; and Alessandra Silva as Young Girl.
Michael Heil's set design is simple, but the upstage scrim gives the actors behind it a touch of mystery and other-worldliness. Michele Siler's costumes and Steve Carmichael's lights add to the occasion, and it's a splendid occasion.
Blood Wedding, a production of Upstream Theater, opened last night at the Kranzberg Arts Center and will run through Oct. 23