Author: MacKillop, James
Date published: November 3, 2010
Black and White And Red All Over
Passion and violence erupt in Le Moyne College's production of Blood Wedding
In an interview in the Le Moyne College student newspaper The Dolphin, new drama faculty member and director Matt Chiorini said that he aimed to raise the college's theatrical profile in Central New York as a training ground for the whole artist. Not that there has ever been anything staid about productions at Le Moyne's state-of-the-art Coyne Center for the Performing Arts. Who else would give us Charles Mee's Big Love, a send-up of Aeschylus, or wreak gales of laughter from Francis Beaumont's Jacobean comedy Knight of the Burning Pestle? All the same, Harvard graduate Chiorini, who also studied at the Moscow Art Theatre, makes a smashing debut in the new Boot and Buskin Theater Group production of Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding.
Actually, Lorca's Blood Wedding, last seen in a Syracuse University Drama Department production 10 years ago, is pretty spectacular all by itself, as the title implies. The personifications of Death and the Moon make appearances, and two men engage in a knife fight to the death. Usually classed as one of the masterpieces of modernism, Blood Wedding was inspired by an account the playwright read in a newspaper, the clipping carried in his pocket for inspiration.
The play, however, presents deep challenges. Pre-Civil War Spain of 1933, when Blood Wedding was first produced, was a cultural and social backwater where men still rode horses instead of driving cars. People still subscribed to duende, the belief that demons and other spirits roamed the land.
Before coming to Le Moyne Chiorini taught at the University of Central Arkansas, where he founded the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, many, many miles from Cambridge, Mass., and Moscow. Whether it comes from his CV or deep within his person, Chiorini strikes the viewer as an aesthetic adventurer, who introduces elements of dance and kabuki, but still really wants the audience to have a good time. And even though just arrived, he has realized what an incomparable asset he has in master set designer Karel Blakeley.
Before the action begins, we see that a man has been killed, and his body is surrounded by black-clad women. The corpse is the father of a would-be Bridegroom (Devon Barrett), whom we meet soon, a well-mannered young man heavily under the dominance of his iron-fisted Mother (Lauren Piasano). Guilelessly, the son asks for a knife (remember Chekhov's advice about introducing a pistol in the first act?) to cut some grapes from the vineyard, sending her on a long rant. Raising the Mother's temper even higher is a neighbor (Abby Brailey), who informs her that the Bride (Alisha Espinosa) had previously been involved with a man named Leonardo Felix, and thus a relative of the men who murdered the Mother's husband. At this the Mother rages out, determined to speak to the Bride before the son knows what's happening.
Blakeley's unique set becomes a part of the action. What we see at the beginning occurs in front of an opaque muslin drape hanging by light hooks from a wire. When revelations that spur action are made (more will follow), the white drapes (more than one) are quickly pulled to the side with a sharp report of hooks zipping along the wire. Revealed behind the drapes are ascending planes to the left and right made of pine boards designed to resonate with sound of the lightest tread. Stark chairs made of tree branches offer no comfort. These tell us how words transform our perceptions and how no step goes unnoticed in such a closed society.
We soon visit ex-boyfriend Leonardo's household, which is not a happy one, despite the presence of an infant daughter. Leonardo's otherwise agreeable Mother-in-Law (Fiona Barbour) sings a lullaby to the child, which the visibly pained Wife (Natasia White) reluctantly joins. There's even less joy when scowling, heavy-footed Leonardo (Pat McHugh) stomps in. The news that the Bridegroom intends to marry his old flame drives Leonardo's sour mood to fury.
Meanwhile, the Bridegroom's formidable mother has come to the house of the clueless Father of the Bride (Andrew Derminio), a gentle Spanish Polonius, who natters about his late wife and his desire to live to see his grandchildren. We need some moments of civility because when the Bride is summoned to meet the Bridegroom's mother the old dame grinds a lighted cigarette into the Bride's palm, not only a signal of who will be boss (we knew that already) but what kind of life lies ahead for the newlyweds.
Somehow, with all these obstacles, we do make it to the wedding, which could have been a pretty grim affair if not for the antics of a joyfully inebriated man (Casey Hunter), who is determined to make a party a party. He's not enough, however, to overcome the general feeling of squeamishness as the vows are professed. After the ceremony, the Bride retires to her room, claiming to be tired, and soon reports arrive that she has absconded with Leonardo. They are sinners twice over, illicit lovers and adulterers.
As in other productions, three roles dominate, the Mother of the Bridegroom and the sinners. Lauren Piasano overcomes the curse of young playing old through the biliousness of her dark passions. Alisha Espinosa presents a Bride more of our time, conscious that life should present more options with her eyes wide open. Pointy-bearded Pat McHugh's ferocious presence convinces us that Leonardo is the sexiest man on stage.
Dark passions, violence and infidelity could easily lend themselves to melodrama, a fate Chiorini scrupulously casts aside. One is the device borrowed from the aforementioned kabuki. When blood is to be let, it is signaled by unfurling red cloth. Much more important is Chiorini's management of the sound design, with throbbing drums and, later, tangos. True, the tango is native to South America rather than the Iberian Peninsula, but we have to applaud that we've avoided the winsome guitars of Joaquin Rodrigo's much-loved, overplayed Concerto. In an audacious gesture, Chiorini has players in simultaneous scenes step to the same rhythm.
Welcome to town, Matt Chiorini. You're joining a lively tradition.