— Shirley Serotsky has been directing theatre in DC for ten years, at the helm of projects with Theater J, Keegan Theatre, Washington Shakespeare Company, The Hub Theatre, and others. Her new production of Blood Wedding, produced by Constellation Theatre Company, takes the beloved Spanish romance in new directions. Serotsky spoke with DC Theatre Scene one day before previews about the surprises, challenges, and excitement in staging Federico Garcia Lorca’s play. —
“Lorca wrote Blood Wedding in 1932. Reportedly he wrote the play in just one week. He was inspired by a newspaper report he’d read in the late 1920s about a bride who ran away from her wedding and went off with her previous lover. In the end, their two families hunted them down, and people died as a result. This was in Andalusia, in southern Spain.
“Lorca read about this, and several years later he wrote Blood Wedding. It’s the first play in his trilogy of tragedies, followed by Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Of course he’s also very well-known as a poet, and as a major voice in Spanish literature from this time.
“Many people have written about his sexuality as well. To be homosexual during that time in Spain… one wonders how this informed the passionate stories he wrote, since he, too, was someone who carried forbidden desires and forbidden love.
“On a basic level, the story is super simple. Here are two young people, in their early twenties, who fell in love years ago. And for reasons that aren’t really made clear, their union wasn’t successful. So they both go off and find partners that seem better fit for them. The bride is going to marry this new groom, who appeals to her sense of logic and what is best, but she can’t squelch the passion of this previous love.
“This idea that someone could show up to your wedding day and convince you not to go through with it… ‘Who is this person?’ What a fascinating question to ask yourself.
“I think from an American perspective it’s possible to look at this play and say that the lesson is: Don’t be tempted. But when I’ve read analyses on this play written from a Spanish perspective, the lesson is the opposite. The lesson becomes: Don’t make a ‘smart’ choice thinking you can put out your inner fires.
“This is a relatively new translation by Tanya Ronder. I happened upon it when I was in an English-language bookstore in Paris. It appealed to me differently than some other translations. It just felt more direct. It’s possible you lose some of the poetry because of that, but I found the images more resonant and the language less frilly. There’s a more direct quality to how people speak. In this play, we move between naturalism and magical realism. To me this translation brought both ends of that spectrum a little more to the middle, so it feels more unified all around.
“Some of my favorite fiction writers and playwrights use this device we call magical realism, to break in or out of realism with elements that are larger than life. Lorca did this, and inspired many writers after him to do the same. In Blood Wedding, the first three scenes are extremely realistic domestic scenes, but the fourth scene is pretty much sung all the way through. Then in the fifth and sixth scenes, we’re suddenly introduced to a magical world: a forest where Death and the moon are characters who speak.
“Sometimes this play is done at universities, because there are some great roles for women. I see professional productions of it here and there — it seems like one shows up every few years — but it doesn’t seem like it’s done very frequently in America.
“We have thirteen actors in this one, plus live music [composer is Mariano Vales.] When we cast the show I had the actors sing, so it did affect our casting. The show is written to include live music. In some productions, it’s possible to just do underscoring. But it’s clear in this translation that there are passages that really need to be sung.
“Some of the actors were familiar with Lorca, and some weren’t. I mean, I’m not Spanish, and neither is the cast. This play is usually associated with flamenco, but we’re not a group of flamenco musicians or flamenco dancers. In talking with Allison [Stockman, Artistic Director at Constellation], I felt it was important that we not try to make this the most Spanish production possible. I didn’t want to create something that strives to be genuinely Spanish but can only make it part-way. So, we are more interested in exploring the universality of the play. That has allowed us to create our own language for it, and make our own visual and oral landscape.
“Once we established that our intent was to do something really new, our touchstone has been: How Spanish? Is this too Spanish? Not Spanish enough? Working with the designers has been all about making things specific without putting us too much in a world that we can’t genuinely represent. How we achieve the nod to Lorca and also make it read to our audiences… Those questions have come up many times.
“One of the challenges has been figuring out how to flesh out these characters. There’s only one character in the whole play with a first name — Leonardo, the bride’s old flame. Then there’s the bride, the groom, the wife, the mother, the father, the servant… we know them at first only through their connection to each other, not through who they are as individuals.
“Even though the dialogue has a real feeling of poetry in places, for the most part it’s pretty abrupt and terse. So it’s been our job to infuse each exchange with a strong sense of intention. It’s not conversational dialogue in the way that a lot of modern American plays are. It’s harder, more spare.
“The ensemble of actors has been really great. It’s been a positive energy. It’s been hard work, but I’m so excited.”