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THEATER REVIEW / 'BLOOD WEDDING' : Timeless Lorca : The Spanish playwright died in his country's civil war, but the emotional themes of his works make them relevant today.

February 18, 1993|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the saying goes, there's nothing new under the sun. So in theatrical terms, it's what you do with a production that counts.

And Teatro de las Americas' current staging of "Bodas de Sangre" ("Blood Wedding") by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, suggests this welcome new community theater company is on the right track.

The Oxnard-based nonprofit group was established in June by Marta Garza, Margaret Cortese and Christina Aerenlund with a grant from the Ventura County Community Foundation. The mission is to produce and present plays for the county's Spanish-speaking community. Artistic director Aerenlund said each season will feature two works by Latino writers and a third in Spanish translation from the European theater.

The company debuted in October with Mexican author Emilio Carballido's "Rosa de Dos Aromas" followed by "Blood Wedding." And it will conclude in May with "Six Characters in Search of an Author," by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello.

Faced with the daunting challenge of producing a well-known classic in the canon of world theater, Aerenlund wisely avoided the avant-garde temptation to furnish the audience with a surreal last act.

Instead, while working on a shoestring budget, Aerenlund and an eager cast of actors with varied experience offer a well-executed, traditional interpretation of Lorca's rural tragedy.

The play is set in 1933, the year it was first staged--and just three years before Lorca was killed in the Spanish Civil War. It was inspired by a newspaper account of an incident almost identical to the plot. But it is difficult to discuss the story without tipping the ending--since it is crucial for the action to build on mystery and dramatic tension.

Nevertheless, despite Lorca's intricate poetic imagery and passages in verse, the plot boils down to two men, a woman and a horse. And the conflict is fueled by lust, revenge and a blood feud. Although Lorca's equine symbol for unbridled passion is about as subtle as a train going through a tunnel, a "Basic Instinct" this isn't.

Instead of portraying overt sexuality, Lorca's plays treat the destructive nature of smoldering, repressed passions. And his use of such universal and timeless themes allows "Blood Wedding" to be relevant today. Adding to its timelessness is Lorca's use of generic characters, Groom, Bride, Mother, etc. (with the exception of Leonardo, the spurned lover.)

The 17-member cast includes actors with professional experience, veterans of last year's Santa Paula Theatre Center Spanish version of "A Doll's House," novices and members of the Grupo de Baile Folklorico Cultural.

Newcomer Monica Quiroz and Rigoberto Guizar are well cast as the tentative newlyweds. Francisco J. Barrajas is a strong Byronic rival as Leonardo. The Bride's Father is creditably played by Armando Ramirez. Marta Garza carries the play well as the embittered Mother.

Olivia Obregon is very good as the personification of Death. The set by Angel V. Morales, who doubles as stage manager and the Moon, is excellent. And in her first role, Irma Stewart is a scene stealer as the straight-talking maid: "But child, what IS a wedding? . . . Is it the sweets--or the bouquets of flowers? No. It's a shining bed and a man and a woman."

The barrenness of the surrounding vineyards are beautifully suggested by a masterfully stark black on white mural backdrop painted by Gabriel Quiroz. But two distracting elements in this enjoyable production could easily be remedied.

First, the anachronistic spiked high-heeled shoes worn by a couple of women detracts from the otherwise excellent costume design (especially the Moon) by Francis Erwin. And the group dance at the wedding reception could benefit from appearing less staged and self-conscious.

The 90-minute production, which premiered Friday evening, is fast-paced and suitable for the family. It held the interest of children about 10 years of age, although the poetic passages went over their heads.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Bodas de Sangre" ("Blood Wedding") continues in Spanish through March 6 at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Camarillo Airport Theatre, 330 Skyway Drive in Camarillo. The $5 general seating tickets may be purchased at the box office an hour before the performance or may be reserved by calling (805) 483-5450.

FYI / SPANISH THEATER WORKSHOPS

Teatro de las Americas holds theater workshops on Mondays from 7-10 p.m. at the offices of El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, located at 625 N. A St., Oxnard. In addition, the Teatro has also developed a bilingual "Reader's Theater" at the new Oxnard Public Library. For details, call (805) 483-5450.

If you do not know Spanish, the subtitled video of Carlos Saura's flamenco dance adaptation of "Blood Wedding" is a great introduction to Federico Garcia Lorca's poetic theater.

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