Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Even better than the first time...Beauty of the Father, Burien Little Theater, Latino Theater Projects

The Weisenheimer and I are such theater nerds that, when we can manage it, we enjoy seeing productions we like more than once. Good art always has something more to say with each engagement, and all the more so with live theater, where it's never the same twice. We were richly rewarded seeing Beauty of the Father a second time, directed by Michael D. Blum at Burien Little Theatre and co-produced by Latino Theatre Projects, playing for one more weekend, through August 25.

Nilo Cruz has written a very wordy play (occasionally ponderously so) where, as the characters themselves declare at crucial moments, "Nothing has happened." Nevertheless, the Weisenheimer and I agreed that the drama has been dialed way up since we saw the play early in its run. The tension and emotions were simmering and from time to time spilling over as these fascinating characters created tenuous lifelines across the bumpy distances that divide them.
Santino Garcia plays the
Ghost of Lorca in Beauty
of the Father

The biggest revelation for me the second time through was the relationship between Lorca's ghost and Emiliano. This time I saw it as central to the play and the most interesting dynamic of all of them, with real chemistry between Lorca, played by Santino Garcia, and Emiliano, played by Fernando Luna. I found Garcia's portrayal moving and fascinating, expressing a wide range of emotions as Lorca tries to bridge his own early, violent death in a time and place that could not accept him with the powder keg of the family Emiliano has cobbled together. Garcia's ghost of Lorca is by turns exasperated, anguished, amused, angered, delighted, and moved by this unconventional family as he is relegated, like that other theater ghost father, to observing and exhorting. Given those limitations, he tries everything he can to inspire Emiliano to be his best self—lecturing, teasing, distracting, poking, provoking, comforting, advising, guiding, and finally, sacrificing. It was touching to see how Emiliano summoned and dismissed the longsuffering and unshakable ghost the way a boy might alternately turn to and reject a father he still needs as he tries to be grown up. To answer my own questions from my first review, Lorca is Emiliano's conscience, confidante, mirror, kin, idol, second self, trusted friend. Lorca has been "beckoned back to life" by Emiliano's art and imagination, and Emiliano is Lorca's hope for being the man that Lorca was born in the wrong time and place and died too young to be. They long for the best in each other and therefore themselves.

This one keeps getting better. Closing weekend will be great. "Go see a play." Make it this one.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beauty of the Father, Burien Little Theatre, Latino Theatre Projects

My acquaintance with the poet Federico García Lorca is through my copy of Three Plays, and I still haven't seen a play of his produced. This weekend, though, Lorca and I were at least introduced through Latino Theatre Projects' production of Nilo Cruz's Beauty of the Father at Burien Little Theatre, directed by Michael D. Blum. And the pleasure was mine.

Lorca and his history, and the history of Spain, haunt this story and its characters. In this context of conflicts, betrayals, loss, and suppression, when is it safe to be yourself? 

The story revolves around Emiliano—father, artist, lover, companion—at the center of something of a multigenerational and crosscultural love...square?....as he gains, loses, and tries to keep those he loves. He wears the mantle of fatherhood uneasily. As the people in his life look to him he must learn when to speak and when to be silent; when to be vulnerable; and when to let others find themselves.

Giving Emiliano counsel is the ghost of Lorca. Lorca is Greek chorus, mediator, and interpreter to us. And...something else, to Emiliano. But what? Sardonic gadfly? Conscience? Father figure? Son? (Lorca was 38 when he was murdered.) Does he merely observe, comment, and dabble? Or does he feel anguish with and for these living humans? What does the ghost desire? I would like to see this play again before the end of the run (August 25) to watch and listen and think more about this. There's a lot you can do with a ghost hanging out in your play. 

Another challenge of Cruz's play is that there isn't much "action" for those who care about such things; the relationships are all played out through the language of voice and body and there are only two locations, Emiliano's studio courtyard and a picnic on the nearby beach. 

That's ok. One of the strengths of this production is its rising cadence, making me almost hear and feel the tides of the coast outside Emiliano's door in Salobreña. Blum and his cast create a music that is expressed as much physically as it is through the language of the play. In particular the bodies and voices of Fernando Luna as Emiliano, Matt Aguayo as Karim, and Heather Ward as Paquita kept perfect rhythm, lithe and graceful, as this dance unfolded. 

The set by Maggie Larrick and art by Jim Barnia took me far away from Washington State, despite the limitations of the elementary-school-turned-theatre. 

Congratulations to Blum and all the cast and crew on a fine production, making theatre on I suspect a shoestring budget and a great deal of hard work. It was a pleasure to meet Robert Harkins, executive director and production manager and to shake hands with Luna, artistic director of Latino Theatre Projects as well as one of the stars of the show. Latino Theatre Projects will be on our list of companies to watch from now on and we look forward to seeing more from them.