BWW Reviews: Connecticut Repertory Theatre Attempts to Locate Lorca's Bones Among the OLIVES AND BLOOD

BWW Reviews: Connecticut Repertory Theatre Attempts to Locate Lorca's Bones Among the OLIVES AND BLOOD

OLIVES AND BLOOD
Theatre: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Nafe Katter Theatre, University of Connecticut Campus, Storrs, CT
Production: Written by Michael Bradford; Directed and Scenic Design by Gary M. English; Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski; Costume Design by Thamiris Estevez; Sound Design by Lexi Macchiaroli; Projection Design by Tim Brown. Through October 12; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $7-$37, visit www.crt.uconn.edu or call (860) 486-2113.

Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut kicks off its 2014-2015 season with a bold choice of a new work by a Connecticut playwright, not unlike Hartford Stage's recent production of Elizabeth Egloff's Ether Dome. Celebrating home grown talent is well worth applauding in a theatre community that normally looks south to New York for its artistic cues.

CRT Artistic Director Vincent Cardinal didn't have to look far for his talent. Michael Bradford, the playwright behind the new drama Olives and Blood, is on the faculty at the university's Dramatic Arts and Theatre Studies department. His concentration in theatre history and playwriting go a long way toward making sense of his choice of subject, Spain's preeminent dramatist/poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

Admissibly, my knowledge of Lorca's work is slim, having only seen his brutal The House of Bernarda Alba on film and as a musical at Lincoln Center. For such a singular dramatist, his work has gotten surprisingly short shrift on Connecticut regional stages. My knowledge of Lorca's life is non-existent, so I was looking forward to being educated by Bradford's play.

Herein lies the major difficulty with Olives and Blood, which premiered in London in 2013 and here makes its U.S. debut. Bradford asa scholar of the theatre evidences tremendous knowledge of Lorca's plays, poems, and symbols. As a historian, he is familiar with the complexities of the Spanish Civil War. Interweaving realism, magic realism, history plays, and poetic theatre, Bradford weaves a lot into Olive and Blood's 90-minute running time.

Unfortunately, the disparate approaches led to some serious confusion on my part as an audience member. The play certainly does not qualify as bio-drama, as it parcels out biographical detail very sparingly. Perhaps, had I arrived early enough to read and gestate on the playbill dramaturgy, I would have more easily understood the complexities of Spain's political landscape in the 1930s. At a minimum, I would recommend some pre-theatre Googling on Lorca, Franco, and the Spanish Civil War.

The play commences in a shabby flat in Madrid, the home of the aging Fascist, Trescante, played powerfully by Martin Sola. The former member of Franco's Black Squad is haunted by the ghosts of his materially successful father (Gabriel Aprea) and the artistically successful Lorca (Nicholas Urda). It is clear from the squalor that surrounds Trescante, that he falsely reassures these ghosts of his own importance and place in history.

A letter arrives from the General Council of the Judiciary announcing that Trescante is being called in to testify as to his role in the systematic murder of thousands of political and non-political Spaniards, including Lorca. The play trots out a number of characters to test and torment both Trescante and Lorca until the action climaxes with the assassination of the poet.

Although revealing a few elements of mystery that engage, I found that Lorca remained a somewhat vaguely sketched character. Treating the poet in mainly poetic terms leaves him feeling slightly more than human, and perhaps he was. Treating the constructed character of Trescante in more realistic terms, leaves the characters adrift in two separate worlds.

This is an interesting approach, but leads to a bifurcated play. Is everything happening in Trescante's mind? If so, how does know about scenes between Lorca and his actresses to which he would not have been privy? Is it split between the two men? If so, why does much of the political machination marginalize Lorca?

Director Gary English delights in the shifting vagaries of Bradford's storytelling. The set, also designed by English, features a giant moon that serves as a screen projecting images of Franco, rippling water, windows, and more. Trescante's hovel looks less a home and more of a prison, surrounded by parched earth and a dead tree, waiting to absorb the blood of Spanish innocents.

The production as a whole is well acted (give or take a few shaky accents) and is beautifully designed. If you are a Lorca fan or knowledgeable on Spanish history, you should find the evening engaging and satisfying. If, like me, your knowledge is shaky at best, prepare to be a bit adrift.

Photo of Nicholas Urda by Gerry Goodstein.


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