nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 26, 2006
Everything about Woodshed Collective's new revival of Blood Wedding, Federico Garcia Lorca's poetic tragedy, is striking. The versatile wood plank set (collectively designed by the company) that gets moved into different configurations; the trenches of wood shavings that surround the stage; the ghostly, pale facepaint worn by the three actors playing characters identified in the program as "the Woodcutters"; the frilly, sartorial concoction worn by an actress playing The Moon (not to mention the creepy way her silhouette first slinks across the stage). Yes, there's eye-catching imagery aplenty here.
But, for all the striking visuals, co-directors Stephen Squibb and Gabriel Hainer Evansohn don't seem to accomplish the essential task of telling the story. All the fantastic stage compositions they create cannot hide the fact that this Blood Wedding lacks fire, passion, and suspense. It feels like they consider Lorca's play nothing more than an opportunity to showcase their stagecraft. From the directing to the acting to the design to the music, there's a lot of technique on display, but almost no humanity.
The story—which concerns a soon-to-be married young woman (simply named "Bride") who still yearns for her former lover, Leonardo, a now-married man who cannot forget her either—is straight potboiler melodrama. But, Lorca's poetic, evocative imagery makes Blood Wedding work, and raises it to lusty, Shakespearean heights. Despite the Bride's obvious contempt for her pending nuptials (her intended is named "Bridegroom"), she is determined to march head first into matrimony. But, Leonardo's appeal may be too strong for her to resist. To make matters stickier, he's married to the Bride's cousin—named "Wife"—with whom he already has one child and is expecting another.
Needless to say, there's no way any of this can end well. And, it doesn't. But, getting there holds no suspense in this production. Squibb and Evansohn emphasize Blood Wedding's symbolism for the sake of showing off their directorial chops. Admittedly, they know how to compose arresting, impressive stage pictures (for example: late in the play, the entire stage gets hoisted upright to serve as the front of a church). But, for what purpose? The play's symbolism, while clear, is also a little heavy-handed sometimes, and I venture to guess that it would still be clear if it were left alone a bit more here. There are only so many times the play's points can be made (i.e. blood, blood, blood!) before the audience stops listening. By sacrificing the story, Squibb and Evansohn also rob Blood Wedding of its narrative momentum.
Whatever chance Blood Wedding has of getting the story across lies with the cast. But, unfortunately, Squibb and Evansohn thwart them, too. There is a uniform monotony to the acting that becomes uninteresting quickly. All the performances have been directed with a heavy gravitas that prevents the actors' other qualities from shining through, and makes the story even harder to follow. Also, the characters in Blood Wedding cover a variety of different ages, but the cast members all look to be somewhere in their mid-to-late 20s or so. No attempt has been made to make certain characters look their appropriate age. I don't know the directors' reasoning behind this, but whatever it is, it's a misfire that proves to be insurmountably distracting. I found it difficult to believe that some of these people are old enough to have grown children: they don't look old enough! Nor do they sound like they have enough life experience to handle some of Blood Wedding's more passionate, heightened passages. Squibb and Evansohn have done their cast no favors here.
In all fairness, though, I must say that the actual physical production really is impressive. Woodshed Collective clearly has some financial resources at their disposal because Blood Wedding looks more like a high-end off-Broadway show than an indie theatre production. Lighting designer Bryan Keller and costume designer Jessica Pabst make the most of those resources, and show that they have chops, too.
Overall, though, this Blood Wedding is anemic. Hopefully, Woodshed Collective will rebound nicely with their next production. What ails them currently is nothing that a little more attention to the story (and a little less attention to themselves) can't cure.