Review: ‘Blood Wedding’ with poetry and song

 J. Hernandez and Victoria Rose Bonito in Philadelphia Artists Collective's production of 'Blood Wedding,' in cooperation with Drexel University. (Photo courtesy of Plate 3 Photography)

J. Hernandez and Victoria Rose Bonito in Philadelphia Artists Collective's production of 'Blood Wedding,' in cooperation with Drexel University. (Photo courtesy of Plate 3 Photography)

You’ve heard of the jilted bride. Now consider the instantly abandoned husband. In Federico García Lorca’s “Blood Wedding,” the wife runs off with her former lover minutes after the ceremony that binds her to her husband — the conclusion to an approach-avoidance relationship she’s had with both men.

 

After that, the two men have it out in the Spanish plains in the middle of the night. And that’s where García Lorca’s play becomes anti-climactic, because he scripts this confrontation in “Blood Wedding” to take out of our eyesight. We get the news about the fight but not the action.

That’s a bit of a cheat. But the Spanish poet — also a playwright and musician — wrote his 1933 “Blood Wedding” as more than a play. He called it “a tragic poem” and adorned it with songs, poetry, dancing and an unrelenting tension. It’s an enigma — an understated play brimming with passions. Best of all, the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective is giving it a sweeping theatricality at Drexel University’s Mandell Theater.

The fine-tuned production is staged by the company’s co-artistic director, Damon Bonetti and, in a partnership between Philadelphia Artists’ Collective and the Mandell Professionals-in-ResidenceProject, mixes nine professional actors with the Drexel students they are mentoring. The result is well-considered and carefully executed – a rarely performed play whose production makes you wonder why it’s not done more frequently.

In its five years of producing, “Blood Wedding” marks the first show the Artists’ Collective has performed in a traditional theater. Even so, for this production the Mandell is not as traditional, just as “Blood Wedding” is not a traditionally written play. Audiences enter through a side portal to music and dancing – the signs of a wedding to come; at intermission, the entrance to seats looks more like Matthew Campbell’s stage design that conjures the wide-open space where the two men and the disputed woman become caught up their deadly chase.

The theater has been reconfigured temporarily to be intimate, with a smaller grouping of seats that jut-out on a platform over the front of the regular house, up to the foot of the stage. There, in a space backed by Campbell’s wall with arches, Eric Scotolati as the groom convinces his mother (Judith Lightfoot Clarke) that it’s okay for him to marry the girl (Victoria Rose Bonito) she knows so little about. It turns out that the girl’s former beau (J Hernandez) is the offspring of a family that has killed the groom’s brother and father – bad blood begins this wedding and ends it.

The excellent cast of 26 includes an ensemble that acts as a singing and commenting chorus, singers (Laura Allan and Stephen Lyons) who offer Christopher Colucci’s haunting melodies set to García Lorca’s poetry for the play, dancers and five musicians dressed in the same effective peasant garb Katherine Fritz uses in her costume design for everyone else. (Michael Kiley’s music direction is fine, and a key to the production’s success.) The traditional Spanish choreography is by Elba Hevia y Vaca, and Dominic Chacon’s lighting precisely sets the understated mood.

 

“Blood Wedding,” produced by Philadelphia Artists’ Collective and the Mandell Professionals-in-Residence Project, runs through Nov. 23 at Mandell Theater, Chestnut Street between 32d and 33d Streets. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/854672.

 

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