Preview of Blood Wedding, Yale School of Drama
The first Yale School of Drama thesis show of the 2016-17 season goes up next week, October 18-22, with third-year director Kevin Hourigan’s production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetic tragedy Blood Wedding, in a new translation by Nahuel Telleria. First performed in 1933, Blood Wedding is a central work in the Spanish author’s canon, mixing folk themes with a surrealist and symbolist sensibility for which Lorca’s drama and poetry are internationally celebrated.
Concerned with a young bride, the groom she jilts for her former lover, and a smoldering family feud, Blood Wedding, the YSD press release reads, “plunges us into a moonlit and mysterious dimension where passion—demonic and sublime—has the power to imprison or liberate.”
Hourigan characterizes the play as “exquisite” and one of the “richest works of poetry” in theater. It’s also, he admits, “a very difficult work” not often performed by professional U.S. companies. In part this may be because, as Hourigan has found in rehearsals, the play demands “total abandon” of its actors and “requires a sense of sacrifice” to render Lorca’s tragic vision. Hourigan sees the play as “transformative” and concerned with “the radical power of desire.” Halfway measures just won’t work.
The task for Hourigan and his cast of 12 is trying “to wrap their heads around” a language that is both poetic and dramatic, and the use of songs that, unlike more traditional musical theater, act as what Hourigan calls “exploded character moments.” Understanding what a song does to the narrative is key to understanding how to present it. There is a basic level of reality in the work, Hourigan points out, so the actors have “plenty of concrete things to do” in order to enact dramatic personae, but, he adds, “an amazing thing we’ve learned is that the poetry extends far beyond the words,” into the very logic of the play. And that means atmosphere dominates action to a degree that it doesn’t in most plays.
For Hourigan, the urge to do Lorca’s play comes from its effort “to investigate the nature of passion,” a theme he finds relevant to those who pursue an art like theater and wonder why they do. Passion, he feels, “offers the most transcendent and awful motivation” for Lorca’s characters, and its true nature is, he says, “the central question of the play.” Clearly, there can be good and bad consequences of following one’s passion.
In mounting Blood Wedding, Hourigan “wanted control over the visual field, and wanted it to be flexible while also restricted to one perspective,” rather than use a thrust or staging in the round. The production will be housed in the Yale Repertory Theater and his technical team have considerable leeway in developing spaces and effects in response to Lorca’s somewhat fanciful stage directions—a room “white like a cathedral,” for instance. The “visual concept must denote the emotional tone,” so that set changes become part of the poetic vocabulary. Because YSD thesis shows have generous budgets and prep times, technical achievement is generally high. Intriguing and exciting, the play also clocks in under two hours, which is unusual for YSD thesis shows.
Hourigan adds that Blood Wedding, while focusing on a female protagonist played by always stellar third-year actress Sydney Lemmon, has been interpreted by some Lorca commentators as the first story the playwright chose to tell about his own sexual nature. A gay man well before that could be expressed openly in public or even in art, Lorca, Hourigan says, “finally gave up” trying to embody himself as a male protagonist and chose “the bride” as his alter-ego.
The play gains poignancy from the fact that Lorca was killed—assassinated for political or sexual reasons, the actual purpose is still contested—four years after writing the play. As someone much beloved and greatly talented who met an unfortunate and premature end, Lorca’s own ghost haunts the text to some extent. “In a world more and more scary” with escalating acts of violence, Blood Wedding, Hourigan feels, shows how human passion can be “inspired and holy.” He agrees that there is a cathartic aspect to the play but “won’t try to ease its mystery” by saying what that might entail. That’s for the audience to find out.
By Federico Garcia Lorca
Translated by Nahuel Telleria
Directed by Kevin Hourigan
The Yale School of Drama
Yale Repertory Theatre
October 18-22, 2016