When Blood Wedding debuted in 1930's Spain, right before the civil war, it became extremely popular there and was even called pure poetry by many critics. The flowing, rhythmical dialogue is underscored with a sad violin melody to give it the lyrical feel that its acclaimed Spanish writer, Federico Garcia Lorca, originally intended for the piece. Translated by Lillian Groag, the production playing at the Walkerspace theater bears the distinct mark of its theater company, Woodshed Collective, a group that seems to specialize in building elaborate sets out of nothing but wood. The raised square stage is made of wooden planks and surrounded by a moat of woodchips. In the backdrop, we see rows of cut logs tied together with rope hanging from the ceiling like a curtain, and two trees sprouting behind that, reaching their long, thin branches toward the stage. Eerie sawing sounds add to the wood-like atmosphere, culminating in an aggressive hammering just prior to the play's opening.
Blood Wedding is about a Bride (Anna Kull) who leaves her Bridegroom (Wil Petre) on their wedding day to run off with a neighbor, Leonardo Felix (Charles Sprinkle). Lorca's words are truly poetic and Woodshed Collective's set is beautiful, but the story is all style with little substance. The play is supposed to show the rawness of passion, the beauty of love, and the sadness of betrayal. But while these themes are conveyed by the production's technical and design elements, they are never truly embodied by its characters.
Perhaps this is because Lorca has drenched his characters in so much symbolism that it is easy to lose their realism. Only one character has a name; the rest are known only by their roles: Mother, Bride, Bridegroom, Wife, Mother-in-Law, and Father. Felix, whose family once murdered two of the Bridegroom's brothers and his father, is the only named character. But he too is a symbol, and the plot never gives a reason for the murders.
In fact, the strongest and most recurring symbol here is not a person but blood. Characters speak of blood in respectful tones as if it is an entity with a mind of its own, doing as it likes while the person it inhabits is forced to follow like a dog on a leash. The Bride certainly acts as if pulled by a chain when she impulsively leaves her new husband on their wedding day to run off with Felix, ending Act 1.
The tone changes in Act 2 when we enter a mythical forest where a white-clothed Moon (Jennifer Kathryn Marshall) weeps and the malicious, black-caped Death (Michele Athena Morgen) lurks about the trees looking for Felix and the Bride. In an interesting piece of casting, we see that Death is played by the same actress who plays the Bridegroom's bloodthirsty Mother. Their personalities seem so similar that when the Bridegroom asks, "What are you doing here?" you wonder if he is angry at the mysterious, black-cloaked woman or incredulous to find his own mother in the woods.
When Blood Wedding premiered, its themes and symbolism were relevant to that time and society. But this production establishes neither the setting nor the period, plunging us into the story as if we already know that this is early-30's Spain, on the brink of civil war.
Fortunately, the story is still interesting on a metaphorical level. There is a distinct poetry to the piece and a wonderfully established atmosphere that draws the viewer in. Its climax is particularly breathtaking. Two enraged men run at each other with knives, but before they can meet, Death raises her black cape, blocking the audience from seeing anything other than an explosion of bright, red rose petals. The scene looks like a painting, and it says more in that moment about the violence and hopelessness of the times than any other character does in pages of words.