Love, as the trope goes, is the universal language. This is one of the reasons that the plot of Blood Wedding, currently being staged in area parks by 1-Off Productions, unfolds effortlessly, even to a reviewer such as myself who isn’t able to understand the Spanish half of this earnest and at times riveting bilingual production. Another reason the action is easy to track despite potential language barriers is that betrayal is also fairly universal.
The dialogue moves fluidly from English to Spanish throughout this tale of an eager young groom, his bride-to-be, and the man who would come between them. At times Spanish phrases are interjected into English dialogue and vice versa, while other scenes are delivered completely in English or Spanish. But despite the unique challenges at play in such a production, director Tina Polzin is careful not to lose any member of her audience. Amy Johnson’s choreography effectively holds the plot together for all, the embrace of the lovers and the battle of the rivals both delivered with a kind of visual poetry that is patient enough to telegraph the characters’ intent and the gravity of the moments that lead to the tragic titular conclusion.
Love and bloodletting are not new to our parks. Thanks largely to Shakespeare, they are a fairly common occurrence in a city where productions from stalwarts Greenstage and Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Wooden O program water our municipal lawns from the wounds of royals on a regular basis. There are comedies too, of course, but tragedy, done right, is particularly intoxicating on a summer night—something that 1-Off is hoping to bring to a wider local audience with this and future bilingual productions.
The company has chosen an appropriate work for its maiden production, as this Federico García Lorca play is as much about the politics and poetics of the land as it is about the humans that plod about and pull sustenance from it. The relationship between the two is woven into the dialogue here, Lorca’s language spectacularly vivid and visceral both in its native Spanish (as I was later told by a fellow audience member) and in Caridad Svich’s translation. “You have to fill your mouth with mud to say the name,” says the groom’s mother (Angela Maestas) about the family of Leonardo (Jordan Taylor), the man whose previous marriage to the young bride hangs like a pall over the proceedings. “You must spit.” “The entire countryside fit in my mouth,” says the wife of Leonardo (Marissa Castillo), recalling her own wedding day. “I was so filled with hope and promise.” “The groom looks like a flower,” says a guest as the doomed groom arrives. “When he walks, the small carnations gather at his feet.”
Of course, the verdant backdrop of Roxhill Park on a recent Sunday did cause some cognitive dissonance as the ill-fated characters descended on the property belonging to the bride’s family, where the father (Michael Blum) struggles to coax even a harvest of hemp from the ground. “In these dry lands, there is never a breeze,” said the family’s maid (Carolynne Wilcox) when, as if on cue, a gust blew through the audience.
Such are the potential distractions of an outdoor production, but Polzin wisely embraces the unpredictability and has her actors liberally break the fourth wall. Before the wedding gets underway, for instance, the families make their way into the audience, thanking those in attendance for coming all this way on such a special day, the father even stealing a carrot or two from one unsuspecting couple. Later, the children in the audience are invited to take part in a dance at the wedding reception. The result is quite a lot of levity for a story with such a foreboding title and obviously bad end.
That, though, is part of the strange appeal of this production; tragedy, it is eager to point out, does not emerge from gloom alone. “Be careful,” says the apprehensive mother of the groom to the bride’s father in the moments before the fateful wedding. “We don’t want anything to go wrong.”
He responds as any father would.
“What could go wrong?” Blood Wedding, Various city parks, facebook.com/BloodWedding1OffProductions. Ends Aug. 27.