Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Olney is co-producing the work with the Tectonic Theater Project, the company co-founded and led by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project), who directed and co-wrote this adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera with Cuban-American playwright Eduardo Machado. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, the current Broadway musical On Your Feet!) keeps the action moving and the temperature high, while Grammy Award-winning composer Arturo O'Farrill adapted Bizet's score and contributed some new music.
Even people not familiar with the opera are likely to have heard of Carmen, the seductress who lives according to her own rules and captivates the men around her. The creative team has moved the action from 19th-century Seville, Spain, to Havana in 1958, shortly before Fidel Castro's supporters came to power against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. In this world, Carmen (incendiary Christina Sajous, a fierce singer and dancer) is a gunrunner for the Castro forces, an Afro-Cuban descended from slaves and a practitioner of Santeria, the blend of African beliefs and Catholicism.
Carmen's target is José (Brandon Andrus), a poor yet rigidly disciplined young man determined to succeed as an officer in Batista's army; he loves wealthy Micaela (Briana Carlson-Goodman), who also loves him despite the objections of her parents. The fourth major character is Camilo (Caesar Samayoa), a swaggering boxer (a bullfighter in the original opera) coming home to Cuba after a triumphant tour of the U.S.
At first, Andrus seems stolid and overmatched by Sajous, but he grows in power as José falls under Carmen's spell. Samayoa glitters with self-possession and Carlson-Goodman brings poise to a comparatively small role. The ensemble embodies Trujillo's full-blooded dances, which incorporate both dancers slithering across the floor and several fight scenes, all supported by an onstage orchestra conducted from the piano by Christopher Youstra.
The authors have streamlined the dramatic action to less than two hours, with no intermission; Narelle Sissons' wide-open scenic design, with its rough walls and industrial-looking metal gates, converts easily from one locale to the next, assisted by David Lander's lighting; and Clint Ramos has designed costumes that delineate character at a glance.
Olney Theatre Center