Nilo Cruzis that rare creator in contemporary theatre, a genuinely lyric voice with a passion for the small stories and commonplace incidents that define individuals. In "The Beauty of the Father" his concern is love that has been misplaced, hearts that reach out for one another but rarely and only incompletely connect, and an endless faith that somehow, someway it will be possible to find that fullness which is only truly defined by the emptiness that precedes its arrival. There is a great deal of poetry in this production, not only in the language, but in the visual invention and in the conception of the characters. Sadly, it doesn't really work. It's a curious instance of being both over-developed and under-realized, and we are too often aware of the desire of the writing instead of the desire of the individuals. In spite of quite good performances, these people feel distant, more like embodied concepts than dimensional human beings, and there's not enough sense of lives lived, of mistakes made, of pain and regret and need urgent enough to compel the drama.
The impetus of the story is that vivacious young Marina, upon the death of her mother, has come to Spain to re-unite with her alienated, artist father, Emiliano. That she knows virtually nothing about him, or his life, is made clear with the discovery that a handsome young Moor she's infatuated with was once her father's reluctant lover, and is now married (albeit for convenience) to an older woman who is still in love with Emiliano. Adding to the romantic dispossession, the spirit of the great Spanish poet and playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca haunts both this seaside hacienda and Emiliano's work as a painter. The unraveling of these thin but twisted threads is accomplished through drink, festive celebration, the revelation of uncertain desires and unwanted self-knowledge, and a sense of the mystical that exists both between people and inside them. There are some social, political, sexual and gender issues, but they feel more like issues than motivations, and in spite of Sharon Ott's solid direction, which gives the action an important deliberation and clarity, the emotion doesn't really sweat, doesn't really bleed, and doesn't really affect us.
As Marina, Onahoua Rodriguez is vibrant and quite beautiful, but never really convinces us of the necessity of her knowing her father, or of why her father needs to reconcile with her at this point in their lives, or of what that reconciliation would consist of. She has an appealing sexual attraction to the handsome and conflicted Karim (Paul Nicholas), but when she discovers that he is both compromised and indecisive, it doesn't seem to cause her much real pain. Then again, should a quick vacation romance be expected to have much consequence? Mr. Nicholas as Karim creates the most interesting character in the play, but this young man who suffers from the confusion created by his relationship with Marina's father never really gets to show us why the relationship happened, who he was before it happened, or how it changed him. The biggest part of the problem is the character of Emiliano himself. Tom Ramiriz looks perfect, with his great, loose stature and his long braid, as a man who has indulged himself in the name of art, and long ago accepted the cost of being either inauthentic or uncommitted. That inner struggle is where the spirit of Lorca comes into play, and while it provides wonderful opportunities for Cruz to editorialize and expound on the meaning of it all, it doesn't really illuminate Emiliano, or answer our deeper questions about him. Jonathan Nichols, as Lorca, has a charming, wise, bemused perspective on all of these people, but it feels artificial, like an idea from a writer's study, not an ephemera generated by the situation. The one character who felt entirely realized was the middle-aged, passionate Paquita (Karmin Murcelo). Hers was the one instance where I believed she knew the man's scent, had loved him for all his flaws, had accepted and grown from the change in her life that came of giving her heart to the wrong person.
The physical production was quite lovely, with an open, heavily raked and sun-drenched set by Etta Lilienthal and sensual lighting by Peter Maradudin, and attractive costumes by Deborah Trout. The action felt slow and transparent in the first act, but generated more heat and interest in the second.
"The Beauty of the Father" was presented in workshop by Seattle Rep last season (just after Cruz won the Pulitzer for "Anna in the Tropics"), and while the play has been significantly developed (especially in the second act), it also feels like it has been over-conceptualized, over-written, and over-poeticized. The desire to make beautiful language is as visceral and intangible as the scents the perfume maker Karim uses to seduce Marina, but like that perfume, too many different scents sampled in too short a time become a confusion of stimulation, effects without identity, a poem of similes without a central, controlling metaphor. "The Beauty of the Father" reaches beautifully, but never touches flesh.
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