Somewhere it must be written in a Surrealist manifesto that Death steals every scene. In Constellation Theatre Company‘s production of Blood Wedding, he stalks them too. A shadowy figure swathed in a black tulle hat, his manifestation gradually gains power until at last, veil cast off, he’s revealed as the primal force behind love, lust and revenge.
Through both his poetry and plays, Federico García Lorca explored the tragic beauty of deep primitive myths – only to become one himself after his murder in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Three years earlier he’d written Blood Wedding, a play whose themes go beyond folk superstition to uncover the dark pagan nature within us all.
Constellation is normally very much at home in the realm of Surrealist drama and epic theater, however, this production can’t seem to find a cohesive vocal or physical style for Lorca’s poetic dance of death. The result is a lot of discordant emotive vocality that threatens to overwhelm the action and the poetry, even while director Shirley Serotsky presents us with some eerily beautiful tableaux by a talented ensemble.
The story itself is a simple one: a mother has misgivings about her son’s intended wife. Add in a spurned lover, repressed passion and a blood feud, and mother turns out to be terribly right. She always is, isn’t she?
By using a sparse stage and neutral peasant costumes, set designer Lisi Stoessel and costume designer Kendra Rai gently evoke Spain without being too specific, which works very well. Composer Mariano Vales interprets the many songs in Lorca’s play with both gusto and sadness, while the onstage presence of a musician – here the talented guitarist Behzad Habibzai – is now a Constellation hallmark. The melancholy mood is further reinforced by lighting designer A.J. Guban, especially when the dark forces of Death and the Moon start to exert their Surrealist power.
But talented elements don’t always add up to a cohesive production. As Mother, Deidra LaWan Starnes contorts her body not just with age but with the weight of love lost – unfortunately, with no one else matching her physical intensity, it looks out of place. Victoria Reinsel, Mark Halpern and Dylan Myers bring a bittersweet quality to their doomed love triangle as Bride, Groom and Leonardo respectively, but their passion lacks complexity. As the Servant, Julie Garner has a lovely naturalism and provides the production’s best lighthearted moments, but that style is isolated. The overall effect of contrasting vocality across characters – at times too forced, too natural, or too heightened – is disjointed.
There are gorgeously chilling images, however, and Matthew Pauli’s Death is a thing of primeval terror. Whether silently stalking the action or slowly becoming a skeletal death’s head before our startled eyes, that presence lives most fully in Lorca’s world.
Constellation Theatre Company’s production of Blood Wedding performs through March 3, located at Source, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009. Closest Metro stop: U Street/Cardozo (Yellow/Green lines). For more information call 202-204-7741.