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Blood weddings, bloody vows

Exploring the high price of passion


One hates to simply give away plot points in print. For that reason, I do hope no one reading these words expected Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Weddings (Bodas de Sangre), at Duke this week, to end on a particularly positive note.

It doesn't, of course. And since the work Lorca called his "tragic poem in three acts" is the earliest of the three folk tragedies the Spanish dramatist and poet is best known for (along with Yerma and The House of Bernardo Alba), we risked further revelations in our conversation last week with Rafael Lopez-Barrantes, who directs the Duke Players production at Sheafer Theater.

"Today, one would say, yes, it's a symbolist play," Lopez-Barrantes begins. "Well, hell. No. It actually happened: the play is based on a true story. The bride eloped with her old boyfriend on the day of her wedding, and the two men killed each other."

The tragic outcome is enough to suggest to Lopez-Barrantes a multiplicity of weddings taking place. "English translations always call this work 'Blood Wedding'" he says. "But part of the power of the title for me in Spanish was that 'bodas' meant there was more than one wedding.

"Marriage in this culture is seen as the mingling of the bloods," he continues. "It's why there was the tradition in gypsy culture of showing the blooded sheets of the newlyweds the morning after--to show the marriage was consummated, and the bloods had mixed.

"But this mixing blood is very curious here," Lopez-Barrantes says, "because the only blood that gets mixed are Leonardo's (the old boyfriend) and the groom's, when they kill each other. Lorca is playing with this notion here."

When reading Lorca, at first I'm struck most by the extremity of the moral accounting principles at work--and the degree to which the entire universe is seen to buy into them.

When the bride irrationally flees with Leonardo, the wedding guests aren't the only ones who want them literally dead. The moon does as well: His personified character converses in mid-play with a beggar woman Lorca creates to represent death. The two are as much on the hunt as anyone else.

In the extreme economics of this world, the most serious debts can only be satisfied by blood. There is no other coin of the realm, no other token that's sufficient. If a rule is broken, no extenuation exists, and the penalty is automatic. If you take a blood oath, blood is required; if the oath is violated, the blood is forfeit.

But Lopez-Barrantes finds beauty in the blood. In the play (and our lives, Lopez-Barrantes suggests), the characters always wrestle between nature and culture, between desire and reality. The twin dualities very rarely reconcile. "Thus the scream of the singer in Flamenco," he says. Lopez-Barrantes calls what we hear in Flamenco or the blues the pain that comes from the lack of reconciliation between these forces.

"For me it's very important to see those two men dying on each other's knives," Lopez-Barrantes says. "They make one river with these two bloods--and that is where reality and desire finally meet. Most often they don't--which is why we cry out loud in Flamenco when we sing it.

"We all carry it inside, the constant quest for resolution between reality and desire," he says. "That's why the play has been so present since I first read it as a teenager. That's why I'm dedicating it to my sons now that they're 16."

Those wishing to view the high price of passion for themselves may find it on display at Sheafer Theater this weekend. EndBlock

Reviews & Openings

The Apple Tree & The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac, Meredith Theater, McIver Amphitheater, Thu.-Sun. through April 4, $8-$6, 760-2840; How I Got Over: A Celebration in Spoken Word, Sacred Music and Photographs, Hayti Heritage Center, Fri.-Sun. through April 4, $15-$10, 683-1709; The Messiah , Carolina Ballet, BTI Center, Thu.-Sun. through April 4, $59-$5, 719-0900; Millworker, Central Carolina Community College Theatre, Chatham Mills, Pittsboro, Fri.-Sun. through April 4, $10, 718-7265; New Jersey, New Jersey, Transactors Improv Theater, Carrboro Artscenter, Thu.-Sat. through April 17, $15-$9, 929-2787; NC State DanceVisions, Stewart Theater, Tues., April 6, 515-1100; The Seagull, Square One Theater, Temple Ball Gallery, 307 E. Main, Carrboro, Wed-Sat, March 31-April 3, $10, 929-1208; Taylor 2, Carolina Union Performing Arts Series, Hill Hall, UNC, Sat. April 3, $40-$22, 962-1449; Waiting for Godot, Burning Coal Theater, Kennedy Theater, BTI Center, Thu.-Sat. 7:30 pm, Sun. 2 p.m., through April 18 (no show April 11), $15-$12, 834-4001


**** Proof, Triad Stage--Though regional theatergoers may remember the Playmakers production from December, 2002, at the center of the current show at Triad Stage there's something the earlier run in Chapel Hill lacked: a robust, believable interpretation of Catherine, its central character. The issue of believability cuts to the heart of David Auburn's drama, in which the three people closest to a brilliant deceased mathematician have to sort out what they believe about each other--and with them, the things that still require proof.

Elizabeth Kapplow convinces here as the devoted Catherine, a bright, blunt 25-year-old who still isn't sure just how much of her father's gift she's inherited. Kapplow's Catherine has the tomboy note of a girl raised in a house where something besides social niceties was regularly valued. As Hal, Richard Canzano brings the right note of math-geek tentativity to his attraction to her. And the gangly humanity of Martin Rader as Catherine's father, Robert, adds savor to the show.

In retrospect, Auburn's play does pull for Catherine and Hal. So did last week's audience, which understandably responded to act one's last revelation with whoops of delight and applause. It's that kind of a show--which means you should make reservations now. (Through Sun. April 4. $37-$10. 336-272-0160.)

***1/2 The Lonesome West, Wordshed Productions--Skip the sagebrush and coyotes, since the "lawless frontier village" conjured by Martin McDonagh's title is actually situated on the rural west coast of Ireland at the turn of this last century, and not an American cowtown in the century before. In McDonagh's third and final Leenane play, a dubious Father Welsh (John Murphy) bets the farm on reforming Valene and Coleman Connor (Matthew Spangler and Chris Chiron), two fractious brothers who manage to make Cain and Abel look more like Mary Kate and Ashley in comparison. He finds little help in his endeavor from Girleen (Sarah Kocz), the local bootleg hooch delivery girl.

But Leenane is a village on a frontier, as it turns out--the frontiers of the soul. In this purgatory, the rain from a constant stream of curses rarely stops, and suicide at points seems all but redundant. Spangler and Chiron have at each other and all other comers with relish, but do matters build believably to the crises in acts one and two? Still, McDonagh's script and this production manage to make a place so godforsaken from the start become even more so, filling the journey with the blackest humor along the way. (Through Sun. April 4. Swain Hall, UNC. $12-$5. 969-7121.)

**1/2 Back Talk, UNC Department of Dramatic Art--Physical illness and incapacitation can spark the strangest leaps of faith. In this odd, autobiographical one-woman show, when Joan Weimer, an English professor confronted with the prospect of permanent back pain or paralysis, finds she lacks the faith to talk to God about her woes, she improbably conjures up Constance Fenimore Woolson, an obscure 19th-century novelist and short story writer, instead. As she addresses increasing amounts of imagination and remarks to Woolson in her last days in Venice, the writer "responds" with guidance and advice.

Visiting actor and director Joan Darling imbues Weimer's character with an abundance of grace, grit and tenacity, but Weimer's script never truly transcends the borders of self-interest. It's an old criticism that autobiography looks for meaning in personal pain--and if it finds none, it invents it. But for all of Back Talk's claims regarding transformation and hidden inner selves brought forth, we arguably don't see much of either. Weimer's world starts small, and doesn't appear to have grown that much by the end of the play. (Closed March 29)

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