Barroom singer Sylvie has spent part of her life in an alcoholic daze. Still, she has a grasp of the fearsome energies that winnow human life. “The whole house is ringing with fate,” she says at one point in “El Paso Blue,” Octavio Solis’s tale of love and betrayal in Texas.
Indeed, fate bears down on the characters like a speeding 18-wheeler in this brooding, poetic and humor-flecked play, now on view in a winningly intense GALA Hispanic Theatre production directed by José Carrasquillo.
Performed in English, and featuring blues music by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, “El Paso Blue” reimagines the Oedipus myth as a contemporary love triangle that jumps forward and backward in time. When Al (Andrés Talero) goes to prison, he leaves his wife, Sylvie (Verónica del Cerro), under the protection of his widowed father, Jefe (Lawrence Redmond). Al later emerges from prison to find that Sylvie and Jefe have fallen in love and run away, a situation that prompts the incensed ex-con to depart in frenzied pursuit, accompanied by his friend Duane (Bob Sheire). Don’t expect a joyful family reunion.
Adding fever-dream moodiness to Carrasquillo’s muscular production is Regina García’s Texas-gothic set, whose skewed perspective seems to show a dilapidated ranch house toppling over on the characters. The landscape often smolders in Christopher Annas-Lee’s dramatic lighting. Downstage, a jukebox represents the El Paso bars where Sylvie has taken up singing since turning her back on her privileged upbringing in Dallas, where she was once a runner-up for Miss Texas.
Wisecracking, headstrong and insightful, Sylvie is an intriguing character, and del Cerro aptly suggests the passionate depths beneath the young woman’s flippant, hard-bitten veneer. (The actress could arguably scale down her drunken-staggering sequences, though.) The compelling Redmond similarly suggests the tenderness that Jefe has bottled up beneath a laconic exterior — a necessary move, perhaps, given the difficult life he has led since relocating to the United States from his native Mexico.
Talero ably channels Al’s truculent ardor, while Alina Collins Maldonado rants energetically as China, a crazed-sibyl figure who crosses paths with Al and Duane. China’s Spanish-peppered outbursts frequently underscore the cultural and ethnic tensions that roil beneath the story’s principal relationships: For example, Jefe and Al resent each other in part because the younger man is less interested in their Mexican heritage.
While all of the characters are occasionally funny (“Dinner’s ready,” Jefe tersely tells Sylvie in one scene, producing a hardboiled egg from his pocket), particular comic relief comes from the hapless Duane. A survivor of a domestic shooting, Duane has in his head a medically implanted metal plate that picks up radio signals, including FM call-in shows and police communications. Sheire does justice to Duane’s bumbling affability and comic potential.
As the play goes back and forth through time, the characters occasionally join in a bluesy song. The conceit is a good match for the script’s bourbon-and-pooltable lyricism, which reaches its acme in some of China’s remarks. China at one point observes that the characters are experiencing “a night for bad blood . . . venganza y amor, two fins on the same Fury rollin’ through the night.”
As China might be the first to note, love, vengeance and myth are notably resistant to brakes.
El Paso Blue, by Octavio Solis. Directed by José Carrasquillo; costumes, Robert Croghan; sound, Neil McFadden; properties, Marie Schneggenburger; fight director, Jonathan Ezra Rubin; choreography, Ed Osheroff; technical director, Reuben Rosenthal. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $20-$42. Through June 26 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 202-234-7174 or visit galatheatre.org.