Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Lydia on the Mark Taper Forum Main Stage

Written by Octavio Solis. Directed by Juliette Carillo.
Mark Taper Forum, April 2 - May 17, 2009.

Michael Sedano

Octavio Solis' Lydia, directed by Juliette Carillo, joins a club so exclusive I count the inspirations on one hand: Zoot Suit, although a 1978 New Theatre For Now entry, it debuted on the main stage, not some remote stagelike setting. Zoot Suit swiftly suited up as part of the regular season. A daring piece was Oliver Mayer's 1996 Blade to the Heat. Two Culture Clash entertainments, the dark Water & Power in 2006 and the 2003 romp, Chavez Ravine. Failing to make the main season but given a short-run on the main stage in 2002 was the superb "Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Piñata Woman and Other Superhero Girls, Like Me."

Given that history of few-and-far-between plays on the Mark Taper Forum playbill, any Chicana / Latina themed vehicle would be a must-see on the basis of rarity alone. Forget all that. Lydia is a must-see dramatic masterpiece, one of the finest productions to step upon the main stage at the Taper.

Make a list of theatrical gems presented over the years, first by Gordon Davidson, lately by Michael Ritchie. Catonsville Nine. Mahagonny Songplay. McKenna / MacGowran. Zoot Suit. Burn This--all of Lanford Wilson's work. Dorfman. Luminous theatrical stuff there. Obviously, it's no small thing to list Lydia as equalling such compelling moments. But ths production of Lydia easily makes the list. Hence, the must-see category.

La Bloga's Daniel Olivas ran an interview with the playright, Octavio Solis recently that offers this summary: Set in El Paso in the 1970s, "Lydia" portrays the saga of the Flores family, whose teenage daughter, Ceci, has been disabled in a horrific accident. Into this household of troubled souls and buried secrets enters an undocumented caretaker who shares a mysterious connection with Ceci.

Complex direction by Juliette Carillo delivers a visual feast enhanced with staging techniques ranging from comic acto to surrealist drama. Sparkling moments come and go seamlessly and to think of one just passed is to miss one in the present.

This is one of those productions that almost everything works. The parachute didn't. That aside, the characters and events create rich layers of looming tension. Everything looks almost OK but something definitely is waiting to happen tension. It winds the audience up so tightly that I hear some exit complaining that Saturday afternoon is no time to be stunned so ferociously. So go at night. But go.

The work debuted in Denver, with many of the same actors. Who knows the refinements worked into the piece, but the Los Angeles production shows a writer's ear for dialog and and a director's eye for movement. Like the language, the stage action is always in motion.

The actors play against one another beautifully. The opening surprise of the evanescent narrator who sinks into contorted paralysis finds an off-kilter mirror in the cackle cute voice of la criada, Lydia. Hired to cook clean and care for the teenager who communicates in her own whistles and grunts, at $60 a week in 1970, Lydia becomes Ceci's prosthetic voice and emotional proxy. The two lead women, Onahoua Rodriguez and Stephanie Beatriz, play with discipline to remain in character.

The ensemble plays together with such power that moments of comic relief come incredibly, well, relieving. When the maid has undressed the incapacitated teenage Ceci in front of her wide-eyed brother, Lydia remarks, "Your sister has nice tits." The explosion of laughter quickly stifles itself as the audience hushes to hear the ensuing dialogue. Talk about edge of your seat excitement.

Solis, the writer, Carrillo the director, and all the actors make only half the production, of course. Having a superlative supporting staff is the undisguised secret that makes the Taper's main stage an artificial world, for two plus hours: Christopher Acebo's Costume Design, Christal Weatherly's Lighting Design, Christopher Akerlind's Sound Design, Original Compositions by the late Chris Webb with Additional Music and Arrangements, by David Molina.

Natsuko Ohama, listed as Vocal and Dialog Coach, deserves special note for her work with Daniel Zacapa's Claudio. Or, perhaps Zacapa himself understands the pain Claudio experiences in a key monologue when the brutal father turns to the house to express himself beaten down. One hears also Claudio's enduring steadfastness. Even a despicable asshole like Claudio offers something worth hearing, given the audience.

Long-time Taper sitters like me, with fond memories of Gordon Davidson's highlights--when he hit it, Gordie hit it good--can look upon Michael Ritchie's efforts with new eyes, now that he's brought Lydia to the main stage. And upcoming, another Culture Clash evening. Maybe Ritchie's finding an El Lay conecta after all?

Inland Empire / Southland Reminder

Manuel Ramos highlights events taking place at University of California, Riverside this week, the Tomás Rivera Conference. Click here for a reminder of this annual event.

That's the penultimate Tuesday of month four of twelve comprising the year two thousand nine, a day like any other day, except you are here. If you'd like to comment on the above, click the Comments counter below. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. Click here to let us know what you're thinking.


1 comment:

Manuel Ramos said...

Lydia debuted in Denver to rave reviews and packed houses. I thought it was excellent and a great night of theater.