Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Palabras Project
Other Tiger Productions
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Talley's Folly, Georama, As You Like It, and Julius Caesar and Kit's review of Million Dollar Quartet


Photo Courtesy of Other Tiger Productions
The Palabras Project, which opened last Friday night at Park Square Theatre, is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The show is the inaugural offering by Other Tiger Productions, a newly formed performance group under the shared leadership of Ricardo Vázquez and Jessica Huang, with the mission, according to their program notes, to "pursue other forms, stories and modes of collaboration in order to present an inclusive and global theater experience."

The Palabras Project is true to Other Tiger Productions' mission as a collaboration of five leading artists from the Twin Cities' diverse Hispanic community, who each use their different media to present a single story. The story at hand is Federico Garcia Lorca's tragic drama Blood Wedding, and the media are mask and puppet theater, rap, flamenco dance, storytelling using shadow theater, and visual art, with some straight dramatic enactment included as well. While the quality and impact of each segment of the show varies, and even the best does not fully convey the fullness of Lorca's drama, the cumulative effect is more powerful, more energizing and emotionally rewarding than one can imagine a straight rendering of the play could be.

Blood Wedding is the tale of a tragic romantic triangle. A young man (called The Groom) from a well-off family asks for the hand of a girl (called The Bride) in marriage, despite his mother's dread of being left, as both her husband and other son were murdered. It gets worse when she learns that her son's betrothed was formerly engaged to Leonardo Felix, a member of the Felix family responsible for her loved ones' deaths. Leonardo has since married the Bride's cousin, with whom he has had one child and is expecting another. Still, Leonardo is fraught with jealousy when he learns that his former love is to be married. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, Leonardo and the Bride take flight together, with the Bridegroom and entire wedding party in pursuit. Suffice to say, it ends badly.

I confess that I have never seen Lorca's play performed, but I have read it. Its formal structure, highly poeticized language, and use of magical realism and symbolism would seem to pose a challenge for a director hoping to engage an audience's emotions. The symbolism includes horse and rider imagery, the magical realism includes having the moon as a character, and the characters present their feelings in long and turgid speeches that are more likely to create distance from, rather than access to, emotions.

The Palabras Project avoids a drawn out enactment of the play as written, and instead presents the story in different media and form. Each creator has chosen what aspects of the story to depict, and from what vantage point, along with offering varied artistic experiences.

After a welcome on Park Square's Andy Boss Thrust Stage, with a brief sampling of what will be experienced in the course of the production, the audience is divided into groups, each guided by a cast member in the guise of a guest at the ill-fated wedding. The groups are led through six separate stations, utilizing every available space in Park Square's facility. Each group follows a different itinerary over close to two hours, and then all re-assemble for a dramatic closing scene.

The group I travelled with was first brought to the Boss lobby, turned into a disco environment, where the wedding reception is set to take place. Rap performer Maria Isa and her band play, sing, rap, move suggestively—a true party—despite the fact that, first the Bride, then the Bridegroom and the wedding party, have all left. We experience the disastrous wedding from the disinterested view of those who remain. Why not keep the party going, even as the cause is going down in flames?

We then were led through a silver forest and into a kind of healer's cave (the creation of artist Armando Gutiérrez) where we hear the lamentation of the moon, are given liberty to ask for cures for our woes, smell the scent of healing substances, and feel the cold, smooth surface of stone knives. Next, theater artist Dario Tangelson presents the story of the betrothal, the wedding, and its bloody end as a shadow play, though with some opening night awkwardness as performers shifted places. During an interlude we watched a construction of wood timbers being assembled on the Boss stage; later we made our own contributions to this project.

A depiction of the story in mask and large puppet theater, designed by Gustavo Boada, came next. It is amazing how vividly the masks, with their frozen expressions, are able to convey feelings. Among the characters depicted by mask is the horse, a vehicle of unbridled passion. In the fifth chamber the majestic Susana Di Palma stomp out the bones of Blood Wedding's brutal story through flamenco dance, joined by two members of her dance troupe. Exquisite! As we were led by our guide back to where we began, we walked through a long corridor following two actors portraying Leonardo and his wife in the throes of bitter argument as they make their way to the wedding. Every 15 or 20 feet our progress down the corridor was halted by another round of fiery sparks between these two, with an unnerving degree of intimacy.

Each of these depictions of Lorca's play on their own would inadequately convey the story, and would fail to fully satisfy as an artistic experience. Together, however, they form a galaxy of small stars that, through their collective light, brightly illuminate the work. The conclusion brings all of the artistic elements together in a burst of emotional release.

Spanish is heavily used throughout the production, but did not seem like a barrier to understanding. Often, the performers repeat their Spanish lines in English. At other times, the context, emotional tone, and visual context make the Spanish words understandable to non-Spanish speakers. Still, some knowledge of Spanish probably adds a bit to the full appreciation of the production. Presumably, the costumes, sets and props, and lighting are part of each lead artists design, and the work is all splendid. Given the logistics of such an elaborate production simultaneously taking place in different spaces, stage manager Jorge Rodriguez certainly deserves a round of applause.

The Palabras Project is an interesting name for this production. "Palabras" is Spanish for "words", but the artistic expression it encompasses is about far more than words. It is a synthesis of multiple art forms, representing the spectrum of outstanding creative talent in the Twin Cities' Hispanic community. Perhaps the intent is to unpack the words, break through their limitations, and more fully express the meaning within them. Indeed, words alone could not possibly have the impact, enliven the drama, nor generate the joy that is at the core of The Palabras Project.

The Palabras Project continues at Park Square Theatre's Boss Stage through July 17, 2016. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $20.00, seniors (62+) - $5.00 discount, military - $10.00 discount. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.

Conceived and Produced by Other Tiger Productions; Co-Founders and Directors: Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vázquez; Lead Artists: Gustavo Boada, Susana Di Palma, Armando Gutiérrez G., Maria Isa, and Dario Tangelson; Collaborating Artists and Performers: Ben Abrahamson, Tierra Anderson, Pedro Bayón, Stephanie Bertumen, Kyla Britts, John Bueche, Adlyn Carreras, Hope Cervantes, Chico Chavez, Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra, Charlotte Deranek, Armanda Dlouhy, Pedro Juan Fonseca, Zach Garcia, Eric Griffin, Alex Hathaway, Grace Holthaus, Yvette Iris, Kiara Jackson, Spencer Joles, Anna Kunin, A. Lissette, M. Medina, Rico Mendez, Charles Miles, Akiko Ostlund, Audrey Park, Elohim Peña, Lois Rhomberg, James Rodriguez, Odin Russle, Amy Elizabeth Taylor, Elle Thoni, Adan Varela, Lizz Windnagel; Stage Manager: Jorge Rodriguez.


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