Beauty of the Father

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Editorial Review

Theater review: GALA's sexually charged 'Beauty of the Father'

By Nelson Pressley
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010

When a play's romantic triangle features a father and daughter lusting after the same hot young man, how much aesthetic distance is required to keep the show intellectually plausible?

The answer, in Nilo Cruz's lyrical yet cautiously remote "The Beauty of the Father," seems to be: an awful lot. Cruz is the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist of "Anna in the Tropics," which placed a doomed romance (sparked in a 1920s Florida cigar factory) against the backdrop of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." Here it's the phantom of Spanish playwright Federico Garca Lorca that adds literary dimension to seductions and betrayals, this time within a sharply fractured family on the coast of Spain.

The show at GALA Hispanic Theatre is performed in the play's original English, with surtitles projected in Spanish (reversing the troupe's usual practice), and the staging is as handsome as one of the sculpted bird's nests created by Emiliano, the artist and patriarch at the center of the romantic swirl. Elizabeth J. McFadden's simple weathered-wood set has a deep black void at the edges, and out of that existential abyss strolls Garca Lorca's ghost, played with Old World elegance by Dan Istrate in an immaculate white suit.

This suave poetic spirit, a romantic martyr to personal and sexual freedom, provides inspiration and counsel to Emiliano regarding the emotional mess he's made, which is considerable. "I'd like to father you," Emiliano says to Marina, the grown daughter he hasn't seen much since a long-ago divorce. (The odd stiffness of the line is characteristic.) But when Marina gets a bit swoony over Karim, the handsome young Moroccan who seems to be working for Emiliano, she's stunned to discover that the lad is, um, with her dad. And that Karim is -- hmm! -- married to Paquita, an older woman who also seems to be attached to Emiliano.

Artists -- what vast capacities they have for love, and what disdain for convention! Yet Cruz holds it all at arm's length; it's as if he doesn't quite believe it himself, explaining in fine speeches rather than exploring in actions the irresistible drives that compel the characters toward one another. "Anna in the Tropics" thrived on a poetic lust for life and language, but "Beauty" is more circumspect -- consistently a thing to behold, rarely a heartrending crisis to feel.

It doesn't help that nearly all the urges displayed by director Abel Lpez's tentative cast are muted. Playing Emiliano, a character who devours practically everyone in sight, Norman Aronovic suggests little appetite or charisma, so Emiliano's free-ranging needs lack conviction. In fact, most of the stated desires come across as just that: stated. Monalisa Arias and Lucas Beck can't locate the heat between Marina and Karim, and the filial reckonings between father and daughter are dry and impenetrable.

That leaves critical old wounds untreated; the past is not the factor Cruz clearly means for it to be, despite the poetic proddings of Garca Lorca. Only Kerry Waters Lucas, delivering Paquita's fatalistic speeches about resignation and revenge, rings true -- a critique of the title's beauty, and a far cry from the thing itself.