BWW Review: LYDIA at UCSB Department Of Theater And Dance
Octavio Solis's Lydia (presented by the UCSB Department of Theatre and Dance, directed by Irwin Appel) is a benevolent fortune-teller story set in 1970s El Paso. Lydia (Verenice Zuniga), the soothsaying stranger, is an immigrant from Mexico who works as a live-in maid for the Flores family. Her influence propels the family, already in a state of massive disrepair, toward the inevitable pain of sudden truths revealed. Solis layers poetry and surreal metaphysics over a bleak emotional tableau that explores how characters' silent, private turmoil manifests publicly.
The narrative tension that moves the characters in Lydia toward difficult, but inevitable, realizations is derived from a variety of social pressures, from the micro effects of general homophobia to the growing pains of a multi-generational family grappling with the transition from Mexico to the United States. Yet, Lydia isn't so narrowly defined by its presentation of social agenda; instead, Solis uses these charged topics to show characters' essential, yet too-often denied, emotional needs as they simmer slowly to boil. These characters all harbor secrets--hidden, unquenchable desires--that cannot be rebuffed in perpetuity. Lydia's characters all exist at points of threshold, at which these fundamental realities force their way to light despite the potential for intolerant or even ruinous response.
Flores patriarch, Claudio (Byron Torres), is a short-order cook who crossed the border to El Paso in his 20s. He has spent the last several decades struggling to integrate into English-speaking culture, despite the fact that his three children were all born and raised in American culture. His wife, Rosa (Rosslyn Cornejo), maintains a desperate cheerfulness in the face of the destructive angst that threatens to drown her family, but she lives in the shadow of her husband and sons' (Oliver Rubey and Elias Reyes) explosive tempers. Additional pressure comes from cousin Alvaro (Bruce Terrance), a young Vietnam vet who, craving the structure the military provided, works for the border patrol, arresting illegal immigrants for deportation.
What the family can agree on is collective grief for the loss of their daughter and sister, Ceci (Jazmine Bang), who suffered a debilitating head trauma in a car accident. Ceci exists in a responsive vegetative state, and requires constant supervision. Lydia, the undocumented maid who takes care of Ceci, develops a connection with the teenager that transcends traditional communication, allowing her to translate needs and desires that Ceci cannot herself relay. Ceci, who serves as the audiences' point of entry, shifts between vegetative (as she is seen by the other members of her family) and cogent (as she sees herself still, trapped inside her damaged brain) to deliver poetic, perceptive monologues that emphasize the sophisticated being locked inside a non-communicative body.
Staged in the round, Appel's production gives audiences an intimate view of the Flores family's palpable discontent. And while the poetic language and surrealist elements of Ceci's ability to exist as two characters simultaneously are overt theatrical devices, a substantial element of this play is grounded in the realism of relatable mistakes met with horribly authentic consequences. Well performed by a talented group of young actors, Lydia brings seven people on seven trajectories crashing into each other in El Paso living room in this expertly rendered portrait of a family tragedy.
Runs through Sunday, 2/26 at the UCSB Performing Arts Theater
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