Deidra LaWan Starnes in Constellation Theatre Company's production of Blood Wedding. Photo credit: Scott Suchman
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?
Nanna Ingvarsson, Amy Quiggins and Catherine Deadman in Constellation Theatre Company's "Three Sisters." Photo credit: Daniel Schwartz
It’s been over 100 years since Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s death. We’re still struggling against a traditional view of how to perform, and indeed experience, a genius that straddled two very different centuries. Last year, Theater J attacked some sacred cows with a lively production of The Seagull. I expected a young company like Constellation Theatre to be able to blow away some of the same cobwebs with their take on Three Sisters. I certainly loved the gusto with which they attacked Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear.
However, this is a very respectful production, full of talented actors making safe choices. The love of the play is evident, but with a few notable exceptions, no one seems willing to break their established view of how Chekhov should be done. If you’re new to Chekhov’s work, then this is a fine place to start. But if you’re looking for any risk-taking, you won’t really find it here. There’s just too much reverence for that.
Director Allison Arkell Stockman makes two great choices from the start. She uses the Lanford Wilson translation, nicely accessible while retaining some lovely poetic phrases. She also has the play performed in the round, which gives the illusion of our eavesdropping on the lives of the Prozorov family – three sisters Olga, Masha and Irina and their brother Andrei. Her direction highlights the trap closing around the family as one by one their dreams of a meaningful, rewarding life are trampled on. Pretty depressing stuff, thankfully lightened by humor (Chekhov billed it as a comedy, after all).
The plot is a journey through several years with the Prozorov family, who live in a provincial garrison town with their daily routines enlivened by the soldiers. All they have is a dream of moving to Moscow and finding meaningful work (both metaphors would be humorous to an audience at the time, now they are symbols for any childhood dream held dear). Little by little, they lose their illusions, and become adults in a drab world. Continue reading
Joe Brack, Katie Atkinson, and Heather Haney in "A Flea in Her Ear," photo courtesy of Constellation Theatre Company
Missing suspenders, snapped frilly garters, a revolving bed, a man who can’t pronounce his consonants – Georges Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” takes some uptight French aristocrats and rattles them around in the Frisky Puss Hotel. It’s a tightly constructed “bedroom farce” that Constellation Theatre Company attacks with frenetic physical comedy. Lots of scenery is chewed in this production, but that’s a good thing!
Woeful Raymonde Chandebise (a sprightly Katie Atkinson) suspects her husband is unfaithful, because he’s stopped fulfilling his conjugal duties. Until she solves the mystery of his failed desire, she can’t rest – and certainly can’t take a lover until her mind is at ease! Devising a ruse with best friend Lucienne (Heather Haney, butter wouldn’t melt) to catch her husband in the act, she sets off a series of wildly implausible and ever more ridiculous situations of mistaken identity. Don’t bother trying to keep track of it all, just let the riot take over.
Anchored by a strong cast all showing great vocal and physical command, the production is clearly rooted in the world of farce. I honestly laughed to tears at several points. It makes for a truly hysterical night at the theater.