TOP PICK! — Federico Garcia Lorca’s lyrical language will never die. Not as long as Nilo Cruz draws inspiration from the poet/playwright and writes with such soul-searing beauty as he does in Beauty of the Father and director Abel Lopez draws together this perfect storm of a cast.
In a crisp, white linen suit, actor Dan Istrate, with blithe detachment and supple movement, almost levitates as he reincarnates Lorca, who tells us he is a restless spirit whom the living keep beckoning back. From his first haunting soliloquy that begins, “Five o’clock in the afternoon,” the time for the bullfights, echoing a phrase from one of Lorca’s most famous poems, Istrate revives the playful hauteur and old world flamboyance of the now universally recognized greatest writers of modern Spain.
Immigration is both a gain and a loss; and placebos fail at replacing family. An American girl, Marina, a radiant Monalisa Arias, arrives in Spain confessing how she is overwhelmed by the death of her mother, who died “with such grace,” hearing the soulful strains of her favorite Amalia Rodriguez fado songs. Her mother’s hunger for home has fired the 25-year-old to return to Spain to rekindle a bond with her bisexual father, a painter, played as crusty as a world-weary sand crab by Norman Aronovic. An expatriate American, Emiliano deserted his daughter at age eight and relieved the pain with male lovers. In contrast, Marina, an impetuous, bubbly young woman, rushing at life, enjoys a jubilant reunion until she falls in love with papa’s Moroccan live-in lover, Karim, an edgy, explosive Lucas Beck; and the house in Granada at the edge of the sea becomes a loaded arsenal.
Istrate as Lorca drifts like smoke among the characters but reveals himself only to those who are receptive enough to see him, such as Emiliano. Istrate’s beautifully modulated performance, which uncoils into one wild outbreak of flamenco, says it all: Seize the moment before you die. That’s something these alienated characters in an estranged family can’t do. Yet the duende or soul of Lorca, like the moon, his favorite symbol for immortality, made visible here as a white balloon, prevails.
Cruz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Anna in the Tropics in 2003, another play about the clash of cultural customs, knows what he’s doing. He toys with conventional rules. That’s the beauty of his magical realism. By heeding Chekhov’s rule that a gun in Act I must go off, the rifle in Beauty of the Father becomes a menacing emblem of violence which does ultimately fire, several times. As for the expected story arc of girl meets boy with a happy Hollywood ending, forget it. Ironically, Karim, a Muslim, and Marina, the all-American, outgoing girl, take drugs together on their first date. Their ecstasy doesn’t come from an instinctive life force, what Lorca exalted and immortalized in his exotic folk plays set in Andalucia, such as Blood Wedding. In Beauty of the Father, the lack of intimacy between all the characters, evidenced by the strained silences, creates uncertainty about lasting relationships.
As if he walked wounded out of a Hemingway novel, Aronovic, a really fine actor, dressed in paint spattered smock, stands at the easel, like an indictment against Spain’s past fascism, painting Lorca’s death. Emiliano is resurrecting the assassination by firing squad, an emblem of an uncomfortable past some present generation Spaniards still struggle to confront. (The unresolved mystery of Lorca’s body still persists even after grave excavations in 2009.) Equally conflicted and self-described as a man of three identities, that of a painter, a lost soul, and a father, Emiliano wanders the stage oddly unable to nurse bullet holes in his own feelings for his daughter. He also sculpts bird nests as if looking for his own. The homosexuality theme is refreshingly organic, essential, not tacked on to be sensational. We sense that Emiliano’s love for Karim is pure, a placebo for loneliness, motivated by a father’s loss of an adored daughter after his divorce.
Kerry Waters Lucas, a spellbinder as Elizabeth Rex last season with Keegan Theatre, is as magnificent as ever as big-hearted Paquita, an archetypal stabilizer, a platonic lover and hoped for companion to Emiliano. Lucas is a standout in the way she captures the lilt and cadence of Spanish speech and endows Paquita with an elegant, earthy liveliness, the very breath of life. Paquita is a formidable foil in highpoint sound bites about her arranged marriage with Karim for his citizenship, an ironic twist on arranged marriages by parents.
But Lorca, the unifier, sets the tone for frustrated love. The versatile Istrate, who is already established locally as the actor who played Vlad, the Impaler, in Synetic’s Dracula, impales Emiliano (and us) with Cruz’s metaphoric darts: “We close our eyes, even when we sense danger and we smell the flowers of bleeding knives.” The afterlife phantom of Lorca, who was shot without trial in 1936 at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, is understandably gun-shy but still a worldly-wise word-charmer. “Love has always been a thick forest that I’ve never been able to enter, and all I’ve known is the promise of the trees. The cry of an animal trapped in a zoo, aiming for the color green.”
Cruz throws out a web of ideas in Act I that keeps us on edge until all the characters in sunglasses come together on the beach for a solar eclipse (kudos to lighting designer Jason Cowperthwaite). The moon coming between sun and earth, the wavering between golden light and blackout, can be experienced as symbolic of the wavering between two planes of existence, the fragile shift between what’s real and what’s surreal. Then comes the excitement of violence in stasis, the sound of confused birds flapping, cued in by sound designer Brendon Vierra. Elizabeth J. McFadden’s functional set re-enforces themes with enough real sand for toe-wiggling to place us on a beach, with a sea-battered boardwalk that ascends like striated, cirrus clouds to the infinity of sky.
Lighting also simulates the huge bonfire for the ritualistic celebration of St. Juan’s Day on the first day of summer, in which all useless objects are burned, a delightfully symbolic cleansing of painful memories. But the old rituals are breaking down and the picnic only succeeds in bringing family tensions to a boil. A lot is left unresolved.
So what makes this play worth a go-see-and-hear? Cruz’s poetic language, originally written in English with Spanish translation written by Cruz for this production. Overall, the play works like a tightly-notated sonata, a form Lorca used for writing. Cruz builds the tension slowly and elegantly, like Ravel’s “Bolero” or a fado folksong. I can still hear some of his phrases.
In Beauty of the Father, (La Belleza del Padre) – TOP PICK!
by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Abel Lopez
Produced by GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Originally written in English and performed in English with Spanish surtitles.
Beauty of the Father runs thru Feb 28, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
BEAUTY OF THE FATHER
DCTS review — TOP PICK!