OREM — There’s a moment in the final scene of Blood Wedding where three fated women sit on swings placed across the stage. They rock, and slowly draw a length of blood red yarn between them from one side of the stage to the other. Music plays and they sing:
Wool, wool, what would you tell of? A voiceless lover, a crimson husband, by the silent river I saw them lying.
That mix of dramatic visuals and lyric text haunt the stage. Federico García Lorca’s script is rife with poetry and just like Shakespeare it can grow a little intimidating for an new audience to interpret. Thankfully, this is live theatre (the text is meant to be seen!) and director Lisa Hagen deftly translates the script to the stage with stunning results.
Blood Wedding is the story of a community: A mother who has lost one son, a wife who fears losing her husband, a groom preparing to wed his bride, and Leonardo torn as he loses his lover. Visually, the stakes are high. With constant reference to blades, sweat and blood, Hagen heightens the danger and fragility on the stage by using the suspended swings, a real live baby, and placing the audience around the action of the play.
The setting is the 1930’s. Scenic designer Michael Gray and lighting designer Paige Porter convey the production’s time period expertly. Walking into the theatre Annette Hanshaw plays overhead. The ground is covered in dirt and straw. The audience sits on wooden chairs in a circle around the stage and candles frame the entrances and exits. Haze and lights from above keep the theater visually tight, with back all around. Chairs are draped with tags with lines from the show and it’s easy to feel transported to…well, actually…I have no idea. Aside from the Spanish newspaper the play could be set in any rural town. And I missed that specificity. I wanted to feel rooted. I can accept that this was a choice along the same lines Lorca made when naming the characters (mother, groom, or bride). As an audience member, I don’t have to know. But I wondered if the director had a unified idea of place and how much of that was shared with the cast and crew.
Wherever the setting, the uncredited costume designer beautifully captured the ethereal elements of Moon (Brooke Christen) and Death (Allyson Mitchell). Neither character seemed to leave any footprints (moon in her swing, and death’s cape seemed to erase any trace). Both characters brought a captive life to the stage. The final costume for the Bride imbued a depth and history to dirt already soaked with blood and tears from past tragedy.
The production succeeds most when the ensemble is the primary focus. The first moment my attention was fully caught came when Wife (Briana Hulme) serenaded her baby to sleep and the other women’s voices echoed into a chorus. It was hypnotic. I was hooked. Several times throughout the show music and dance are woven in and I wish I could credit the composer behind the melodies. These moments were a time to breathe, to reflect, and let the show wash over me.
The acting I found generally flat and one-dimensional, but there are key moments throughout that hint to what this production might become as the run continues. Early scenes with Mother (Angela Nibley) or Bride (Riley Branning) left me feeling apathetic. Nibley’s opening monologues felt focused more on exposition than underlying emotion, and Branning hid her feelings of betrayal a little too well in her time with the groom. As the play progressed so did the complexity in their performances. The confrontation between these two women at the end is viscous and heart wrenching. I look forward to seeing more of that complexity bleed into their earlier scenes. The character growth in Wife, however, was my favorite of the evening. Hulme’s “I am the mother of your son” monologue had me frozen to my seat.
It is exciting to see Blood Wedding on a Utah stage again. Hagen’s production is gorgeous, the ensemble is tremendous, and if the early scenes can grow to match the ending this will definitely be a show not to be missed. For now, see it for the production elements and direction. Attend later in the run and I’m confident these students will show you a maturity equal to any in the state.