By Celia Wren
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 11:12 AM
Oranges ripen with diamonds at their centers. Glass turns blue when touched by a lovesick youth. In the wake of a mistreated girl, a metal-robed angel stalks and dances. Curiosities both wondrous and harrowing cascade into view in "La Candida Erendira (The Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother)," Colombian director Jorge Ali Triana's splendidly hallucinatory yet accessible dramatization of the 1972 novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Triana's script, written with Colombian playwright Carlos Jose Reyes, hews closely to its source. But in the production at GALA Hispanic Theatre (in Spanish, with English surtitles), the director complements Garcia Marquez's magical realism with a lapidary theatricality, complete with humor, music, stylized movement and haunting tableaus like surrealist paintings.
An odd tale with chilling currents and an epic feel, "La Candida Erendira" tells how a ruthless old lady (Laura Garcia) forces her granddaughter Erendira (Paola Baldion) into prostitution after the docile young girl has accidentally set fire to their home. Wandering through a harsh landscape, the pair encounters smugglers, soldiers, autocratic missionaries and a naive youth named Ulises (Ignacio Meneses) who resolves to rescue Erendira.
All these adventures find room on designer Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden's dreamlike set, whose pale driftwood fences give an ocean flavor to an expanse of desert sand and deep blue sky. Eked out with a rocking chair and a phonograph propped on the ground, this environment at first represents the grandmother's mansion; later, the towns where cash-hungry musicians, an opportunistic photographer and snake charmer (Carlos del Valle and Carlos Castillo, respectively), and lustful local men create a circus atmosphere around Erendira's tent. (The production has a few moments of nudity.)
The set's lack of walls underscores Erendira's vulnerability, and even without that, your heart would ache for Baldion's version of the girl. Dressed by costume designer Marcela Villanueva in a simple floral frock, the actress exudes meekness, but a vibrancy rises to the surface during Erendira's attempts at rebellion.
Ranting in a smoky voice as she reigns from her rocking chair, or promenading beneath the fire-charred remnants of a parasol, Garcia makes the grandmother a fascinating, decadent monster, whose eyes glare from the depths of a ravaged face.
Javier Teran has a funny cameo as a mayor whose only duty is to shoot at clouds (in hopes of rain), and Meneses's choirboy mien enhances Ulises's charm. Alvaro Palau, a former principal dancer with the Washington Ballet, is a wonderfully unnerving presence as the angel, whom the others apparently don't see, whether he's dancing or statue-still.
David Crandall's sound design conjures ocean waves and roaring flames when needed but also slips in eerie silvery, twanging noises, like dispatches from a shortwave radio gone berserk. It's a soundscape that makes the production all the more artfully phantasmagoric.
Wren is a freelance writer.
La Candida Erendira adapted by Jorge Ali Triana and Carlos Jose Reyes from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novella. Directed by Jorge Ali Triana; musical direction, Jose Arturo Chacon; lighting design, Klyph Stanford; properties, Tessa Grippaudo; wigs and makeup, Dori Beauseigneur; fight choreography, Monalisa Arias; movement, Alvaro Palau. With Jose Arturo Chacon, Christian Sanchez, Carlos Amaya, Anabel Marcano, Manolo Santalla, Gilberto Pimentel and Cecilia De Feo. In Spanish with English surtitles. About 1 hour 45 minutes. Through Feb. 27 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-8497 or 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.