Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor's Note: "The Beat" blogger Marc Cabrera recently completed the 2009 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre. As part of his fellowship, he was assigned to review several plays. Below is his review of "Lydia" performed at The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles
Octavio Solis's "Lydia" is a big, ugly bully of a play, ripping scabs off the wounds of both its characters and audience, and leaving everyone in the theater feeling battered and betrayed.
And it is a good play, but one that will leave you punch drunk and running toward the exit in the end.
Playing now at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the play focuses on La Familia Flores de San Antonio, Texas, a working-class clan in the early 1970s struggling with the aftermath of a family tragedy.
Seenteen-year-old Cecilia, referred to throughout as Celi, is our narrator. Speaking with impeded speech, washed in angelic light, Celi first comes to us seeming in a dream, reciting a rigid spoken word of flying with glass wings.
Introducing tired mom Rosa (Catalina Maynard), bookish younger brother Misha (Carlo Alban), brooding older carnal Rene (Tony Sancho) and hardened papa Claudio (Daniel Zacapa), Celi ghostly wanders through the messy family home backdrop. In a beat, it's revealed that Celi is really a bed-ridden car wreck victim and the family has been forced to care for her.
As Celi, Onahoua Rodriguez is a gift, able to pull the audience in with floating prose before reverting to a brain damaged state.
The family copes with the world in a victimized glaze of indifference, until Lydia, a squeaky-voiced, English-impaired Mexican migrante. Instantly, she's able to communicate with the stammering Celi, and the two are connected through words and experiences.
Like a south of the border Lucille Ball, Stephanie Beatriz plays Lydia with enough whimsy to give you hope for the scarred Flores family.
The good will is part of Solis's trick of luring the audience into a complicated, far-reaching world of incestuous deciet and, ultimately, betrayal. The appearance of a long-lost primo, Alvaro (Max Arciniega) further murks up the situation, when the truth of what happened the night of Ceci's accident is slowly unveiled.
Solis's script goes there again and again, to haunting, tortured rests of reckoning. That he dresses it up with 70s pop culture references, from the Mod Squad and Santana's "Abraxas," Budweiser pop cans and S&H Green Stamps, only furthers the emotional heist he is playing out.
The Chicano-family study also is worth noting because it is used to lull the audience into a sense of impending redemption. Surely, such a close cultural examination would be used to celebrate universal differences, one might suspect. Solis grants no such wishes with this one.
And that is what makes this merely a good play, becasue although it's told through a specific cultural lens and shaded with glimmers of brilliant performances, particularly from Zacapa and Maynard, the story is too brutal to endure. The audience is subjected to painful scenes of infidelity and incest. These are the get out of the theatre as fast as you can moments.
"The way you want things and the way things go are different," Claudio laments right before committing the ultimate maritial sin that ends the first act. It certainly applies to "Lydia" a technically good play that screws with the audience too much to keep it from being great.