IRVINE — Two writers in the Spanish language have made an indelible mark on 20th century literature, Federico Garcia Lorca and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The soaring poetry of each is fired by an almost mythic relevance to the existence of the common man and the spiritual power that makes him rise above himself.
It's the poetry that's missing in Brendan Kennelly's new version of Lorca's "Blood Wedding" at UC Irvine's Concert Hall. There are rhymed couplets, but rhymed couplets do not always poetry make. There is no fire in the words, and little power.
Lorca's play is the stuff of grand opera, a small tale about a wedding destroyed by the lust of an earlier affair, made towering by Lorca's outlook on the troubles of mankind. In this adaptation and in Annie Loui's limpid direction, it is reduced to a small tale.
Loui's staging is luscious to behold, with a fine set by Douglas-Scott Goheen, attractive but subdued costumes by Charlene McCabe and intriguing, painterly lighting by Rebel Luckau. And the cast is exceptional, as far as Loui has allowed them to go, which is not much beyond the pale adaptation.
The director has inexplicably chosen to choreograph some of Lorca's most telling moments in slow-motion dance steps by the actors as the they say their lines, which dissipates the already flagging energy. It's an idea that must have looked good on the planning board but hasn't translated into involving theater.
What saves the production are the superior performances of many of the actors. Of note is Laurie Lapides as the Mother of the Bridegroom (Will Peters), a woman who has lost her husband and eldest son to the vicious Felix family. Peters, also excellent, gives perfect support to Lapides in their first scene, almost an operatic duet in which the Mother bemoans the knife that has undone her family. Lapides is exceptional throughout.
Neil David Seibel stands out as Leonardo Felix, whose lust for the Bride has outlived their broken engagement of early years and poisoned his own marriage. Andrea Deal gives power and great depth to the role of Leonardo's suffering Wife, a difficult role she makes look easy.
Andrea Odinov is a bit too brassy to be effective as the Bride, whose surface innocence should mask her ultimate treachery, but her performance almost rises above it. Andrew Levy is also strong as the Bride's Father but, like the rest of the able cast, is prevented by the director and adapter from inhabiting the barren, dusty Spanish plains of Lorca's mythic world. They could be doing "Green Grow the Lilacs."
"Blood Wedding," Concert Hall, UC Irvine. Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $12-$15. (714) 824-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.