Review: ‘Blood Wedding’ at The Wilma Theater

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The Wilma Theater’s Blood Wedding sets out to overpower you – and it succeeds. From its first moments, when the 11-member ensemble assembles on a long, bare, black platform, stares directly into the audience, and begins dancing aggressively – pounding the floor rhythmically, in bare feet, in martial style – one feels that these people are out to grab you and pull you into their world, whether you like it or not.

Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare and Company. Photo by Bill Hebert.
Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare and Company. Photo by Bill Hebert.

It’s a world of base instincts and raw emotions. The set is black, and so is the gloomy world of Federico García Lorca’s 1932 play. It tells of a nameless Bride and Groom planning their wedding. Everything about the wedding is conducted with propriety – until the Bride catches sight of her brutal, combative ex-love Leonardo. Their passion for each other soon reignites. And from that point on, propriety goes out the window.

Everything about this production is striking, starting with Thom Weaver’s set and lighting design. Elegant chandeliers hang overhead, while functional klieg lights sit exposed on poles on the left and right of the stage. The set is all black – a long, rectangular platform and a high wall dominate the set. They’re unadorned, but they turn out to be covered with vinyl that gets peeled away at key moments, just as the respectability of this society gets torn away by the craving of these two people. And Oana Botez’s costumes – from the solid earth tones of the wedding guests to the blood-red formal wear for the Bride and Groom – set their own visual language without being quirky.

Lindsay Smiling, Campbell O’Hare, and Matteo Scammell. Photo by Bill Hebert.
Lindsay Smiling, Campbell O’Hare, and Matteo Scammell. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Director/Choreographer Csaba Horváth’s staging creates a series of eye-catching tableaus that put a distinctive spin on a straightforward story. (My favorite: the Bride puts on a headdress of orange blossoms, and she staggers under its weight, struggling to meet the expectations of her community.) Each sequence is clean, uncluttered, and hypnotic. And it’s aided greatly by Csaba Ökrös’ music, mostly sung a cappella but with occasional spare instrumentation provided by the cast – a little guitar here, a little bass there, and some evocative saxophone and flute played by Sarah Gliko, who is affecting as Leonardo’s spurned wife.

Campbell O’Hare’s elegant, fierce, and sexy Bride is impossible to take your eyes off of. She’s well-matched with Lindsay Smiling’s aggressive and tortured Leonardo. Jered McLenigan makes a forlorn, impassive Groom, with Jaylene Clark Owens regal and brooding as his Mother.

There’s a lot going on here – but what’s missing? Well, this Blood Wedding doesn’t have much Spanish flavor (except for a few flamenco dance steps and some guitar flourishes) – which is decidedly odd for a play by one of Spain’s greatest playwrights. Instead, the society portrayed here seems like a mélange of different cultures: the ensemble’s leaps, knee lifts, and stiff upper bodies owe a lot to Irish stepdancing, while the wedding guests dance a Jewish horah. Nehuel Telleria’s colloquial translation (“What’s eating you up inside?” asks one character) makes little connection with the play’s roots.

And with Horváth’s emphasis on visual elements, the storytelling suffers. It’s not always clear what’s going on – especially with the supporting characters – and the audience is left to fill in the gaps. (Is that Leonardo’s child, or his neighbor’s child? Is that the Mother’s neighbor, or her servant?)

But the lapses in clarity don’t affect the powerful overall effect. You may not always understand what’s going on in this riveting, mesmerizing Blood Wedding, but you won’t long forget the way it makes you feel.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission.

The Company. Photo by Bill Hebert.
The Company. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Blood Wedding plays through Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Wilma Theater – 265 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 247-9913, or purchase them online.

1 COMMENT

  1. What a fine review, Tim. I made me relive many moments of this mesmerizing production at the Wilma.

    Yes, I wanted a bit more Lorca, a bit more Spain and its heat, but we got a lot of raw eroticism, with dancers turning into horses going wild, and with layer after layer building up and getting torn down by a cast that wouldn’t let us do anything but stay focused on the drama on stage.

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