'Blood Wedding': Moonstruck, Star-Crossed

The Bride (Karen Morales-Chacana) elopes with old flame Leonardo (Carlos Castillo) in GALA Theatre's "Bodas de Sangre" ("Blood Wedding").
The Bride (Karen Morales-Chacana) elopes with old flame Leonardo (Carlos Castillo) in GALA Theatre's "Bodas de Sangre" ("Blood Wedding"). (By Daniel Troconis -- Gala Hispanic Theatre)
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 12, 2008

You wouldn't dare associate such soppy rhymes as "croon" or "June" with the moon in Hugo Medrano's elegantly spare "Bodas de Sangre" ("Blood Wedding"). With her gauzy blue-white drapery and ethereal prancing, this feminine lunar presence might look as if she's escaped from a modern-dance troupe, but there's a creepy reverb behind her voice as she delivers her unsettling poetic monologue about coldness and death. She's a planetary body to steer clear of -- not that the doomed runaway lovers in Federico García Lorca's tragedy have any choice in the matter.

The echoing words and balletic movements of the Moon (Marta Cartón Campbell) deepen the spookiness of the scene, which is one of the surrealistic sequences in Lorca's 1933 play about lust, vengeance and botched marriages in rural Spain. Still, the eeriness of Campbell's Moon isn't melodramatic or overly prolonged. She's a fleeting dose of menace, testifying to the effective husbandry of this Spanish-language production (with English surtitles), whose motto might be: "Nothing in excess."

The action unfurls on designer Giorgio Tsappas's stark set: a few fragments of off-white wall, a beige floor scored with grooves, and a table and chairs. The spartan environment somehow suggests both the steeliness and the vulnerability of such characters as the Mother (María Victoria Peña), the baleful widow whose anxieties about her son, the Bridegroom (Frank Vélez Rodríguez), prove all too justified. On the day of the young man's marriage, his moody Bride (Karen Morales-Chacana) elopes with her old flame Leonardo (Carlos Castillo); the community's merciless code of honor makes the ensuing catastrophe inevitable.

The mostly nameless, almost archetypal characters in this bleak and fatalistic tale speak in austere poetry, but Medrano and his actors give the piece a human tone. Dressed in black, with her graying hair severely pulled back, Peña's Mother looks like a bird of doom, but a hint of crotchetiness makes her brooding just slightly humorous.

In another showcasing of a personal foible, later in the play, the gentle Bridegroom absentmindedly chews on a flower before a formal meeting with the Bride's Father (a jovial Mel Rocher, delivering the show's most spontaneous and developed performance); when the older man enters, the youth whips the stem abashedly from his mouth.

Naturalism serves the play less well in the case of Leonardo and the Bride, who blend in with the other characters when they should be mythically distinct. The duo display occasional flashes of chemistry -- in a moment when they flee, side by side, through the nighttime forest, for instance. But overall, there's too little evidence of the electric passion that should be the tragedy's driving force.

Instead, the tension in this "Blood Wedding" derives from the story's other personalities, and from many decorous touches of stylization. A flamenco interlude is a case in point: Dancer Genoveva Guinn's drumming feet and imperiously sinuous arms, and Ramin Rad's guitar accompaniment, seem to ratchet up the narrative's urgency. Even Guinn's red shawl sends an ominous signal, given that the other characters in the show wear black and earth tones. (Guinn and Danilo Rivera are the production's choreographers. Martin Schnellinger devised the rustic costumes.)

David Crandall's sound design is equally theatrical, with its thundering hooves, snatches of guitar solo and other streamlined cues. Designer Martha Mountain's lighting is heightened, too, with harsh whites giving way now and then to slicks of pink and, in the forest scene, to atmospheric, blue leaf-shaped shadows.

Sound and light contribute to the production's split-second expressionistic climax, as the rag-clad Beggar Woman (Alida Yath) who's been roaming the forest reveals herself -- unmistakably -- as Death. Not that this woman's sinister agenda has exactly been a secret until this point: Earlier, she was glimpsed having a heart-to-heart with the Moon.

Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), by Federico García Lorca. Directed by Hugo Medrano; properties design, Mariana Fernández; associate light designer, Klyph Stanford. With Lucrecia Basualdo, Enriqueta Lara, Lorena Sabogal and others. In Spanish with English surtitles. Two hours. Through April 27 at GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-8497 or 202-234-7174 or visit

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