Like the tragedies of the ancient Greeks, the works of Federico Garcia Lorca, the 20th century playwright and poet (executed at the age of 38, during the Spanish Civil War) dealt with passion run amok, and the inescapable hand of fate.
Lorca’s 1932 play “Blood Wedding” is a prime example. As with those Greek plays, it lends itself to many different interpretations. I’ve seen it in a straightforward setting (as part of what the playwright called his “trilogy of the Spanish earth”), as a flamenco ballet and even as puppet theater. But now, at Lookingglass Theater, the brilliant scenic designer-turned-director Daniel Ostling has grabbed hold of it and turned it into a compelling ballad opera — putting a fascinating veneer of Depression-era California farm life on the story, while leaving just enough of its southern Spanish roots to suggest its origins. Quite an imaginative feat.
As its title suggests, “Blood Wedding” — which unfolds in three fast-moving acts, and features a notably lean, muscular, poetic and at moments caustically funny translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata — is a tale that will end in death. Haunted and haunting from the start, it is, in fact, the anatomy of two marriages that never should have taken place, and one that never happened yet burned through everything and everyone in its wake.
When: Through April 24
Where: Lookingglass Theatre,
821 N. Michigan
Tickets: $40 – $75
Run time: 2 hours with
At its center are two prominent, land-owning families. There is the bridegroom-to-be (Chance Bone, who captures the young man’s sweet, decent, naive and loving soul) and his mother (Christine Mary Dunford in a rip-roaring turn as the angrily mournful woman made bitter and wary by the murders of both her husband and her first son). And there is the 22-year-old bride-to-be (whippet-thin Helen Sadler, wholly remarkable as the similarly angry, unhappy, covertly passionate soul), whose father (Troy West, whose acerbic but sonorous delivery is a wonder) is an earthy, exuberant, winningly shrewd man.
Some years earlier, the bride had a madly passionate relationship with Leonardo (the aptly hot-and-cold Kareem Bandealy). But for reasons never made wholly clear, he married someone else (the lovely Atra Asdou in a finely limned portrayal), with whom he has a young son.
Both clearly have regretted whatever pulled them apart. Leonardo’s wife knows her husband’s heart is somewhere else, while the bride, aware of the good heart and good life the bridegroom can bring her, sees marriage to him as the death of passion. So when Leonardo gallops up to her window in the dark of night just before the wedding, the fire is reignited.
Though the marriage vows are taken, even before the wedding festivities are over the bride escapes with her true love. Men being men, there will be honor to defend and blood to be spilled. And women will end up as widows or objects of shame — their lives even more circumscribed than they might have become in marriage.
Lorca’s story flows thrillingly and inevitably to its pitch-black conclusion, with several musical sequences composed by Rick Sims in a roots-based style spun out on guitar (winning work by Kevin Viol and Bubba Weiler) and piano (Sophia Michelle Bastounes, a Lincoln Park High School junior), and in ballad-like vocal work (led by Wendy Mateo). Along the way there is a magical turn by Melisa Pereyra as the moon, and wizened observations by Eva Barr as a neighbor. Josh Horvath’s sound design is music of its own.
Not surprisingly, Ostling’s impressive storytelling and fluid staging (skills no doubt honed through his many memorable collaborations, including on several operas, with Mary Zimmerman and others) are richly enhanced by his scenic design. As much an intrinsic element as the text, the rough-hewn wooden walls of the two families’ homes seamlessly shift to form the frame of a rustic garden wedding feast scene, and then loom over a deep grave (ominously lit by TJ Gerckens). As always, Mara Blumenfeld’s character-defining costumes, with their mix of 1930s Depression-era Americana style and fancier Edwardian wear, could not be more exquisite.
And now there is this tantalizing question: What will Ostling direct next?