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Stage Light

Alterations Wreak Havoc on Trip to Altar

September 28, 2000|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Blood Wedding," Federico Garcia Lorca's impassioned, poetic tragedy of men and women locked in remorse and revenge, is as close to a national play as any classic, and even more a statement of Spanish identity than "Death of a Salesman" is of American individuality.

With a reasonably definitive, highly playable translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata, "Blood Wedding" would seem to be set in place for any director wanting to tackle it. But not for director-translator-adapter Odalys Nanin, whose MACHA Theatre Company version at Ventura Court Theatre does to Lorca what Lisa Wolpe's Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company has long been doing to Shakespeare.

Like many of Wolpe's productions, Nanin's casts women in the male roles and, taking it a step further, casts Pete Leal in the female role of the servant. The echo here of the cross-gender Shakespeare is especially noticeable since Lorca's tragedy plays with Shakespeare's favorite themes of torn lovers, defiant children, misunderstood jealousy and the magic of the forest, as if "Romeo and Juliet" were crossed with a nightmarish version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The strategy is daring, but the result is extremely uneven. A crucial pairing, such as Jossara Jinaro's much-abused wife and Nanin as her macho husband, Leonardo, lacks the needed element of emotional bitterness that infects a marriage gone bad. Nanin is stern, strutting about in boots and flinging a whip, but she is never fearsome in a role that is this play's human tornado. She wreaks havoc with everything Leonardo touches, including his true love now set to be the bride (Adelina Anthony) to the groom (Laura Vega).

Interestingly, the very built-in awkwardness that comes with some cross-gender casting works to Anthony and Vega's advantage. Since they're a poor match in the first place, with the wealthy groom described as small and therefore weaker than Leonardo, the image of Vega standing next to the taller Anthony helps underline the sense that this marriage is doomed. But Jade Hykush's attempts to put on the gruff airs of an older man as the bride's father is part of the strategy that doesn't work. As one of the women playing a woman, Irene De Bari adds venomous clout to the role of the groom's vengeful mother.

More seriously, though, Anthony's and Nanin's adaptation of Nanin's translation (a needless activity, really, since it isn't as musical as the Dewell-Zapata translation) reduces the play's hypnotic, chant-like verse by trimming characters and scenes, and ineptly condenses the action of the last two scenes. Although the superficial shift of the play's locale from Spain's wine-growing region to the Southern California ranchos is apparent only in the striking outfits worn by Nanin and Vega, the alterations to Lorca's mournful, explosive verse and climax make the blood of this play run much thinner.

*

"Blood Wedding," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Oct. 22. $20. (323) 965-9333. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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