Audiences at Woodshed Collective’s new staging of Blood Wedding may be forgiven for wondering whether they have walked into the wrong theater. The creaky wooden platform that forms the cramped playing area resembles the one in Sweeney Todd uptown. Those ghoul-faced characters who linger, observing scenes they’re not in, could have drifted in from John Doyle’s Sondheim revival. There’s even a crazy-looking sad sack in a head bandage, just like Sweeney‘s Toby. The violins Lorca’s script calls for? Two actors scratch out Daniel Rosen’s flamenco-free score onstage. Finally, to punctuate the story’s tragic climax, one of the performers pours stage blood from a bucket. (In all fairness, Peter Brook used that bit decades before Doyle.) By then, however, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Patti LuPone had come marching in, tooting a tuba.
That said, there are many things to like in Woodshed’s production, not the least of which is Lillian Groag’s limpid new translation, which—especially in this ensemble’s naturalistic performance—lends a refreshing immediacy to Lorca’s prose. But this same naturalism chills the play’s oppressive heat of impending doom: Fate’s absent, and so’s any dramatic tension. And when Lorca waxes poetic, the directors, Stephen Squibb and Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, allow the cast to slide into stilted declamation. (As difficult as it is to stage the Moon’s song, surely there’s a better way than having her carry on like Norma Desmond ready for her close-up.)
Doyle’s gimmickry aside, Sweeney‘s book and lyrics anchor it in a specific place and time: Victorian London. Blood Wedding
‘s setting and all but one of its characters go unnamed. Yet its story is as universal as it is specific: The arranged marriage, the runaway bride, the honor killings that avenge an ancient family feud—none of these were exclusive features of pre–Civil War Spain. But Woodshed replaces the classic’s Spanishness with an anodyne generic blandness, which doesn’t illuminate its universality so much as bleed it of its vigor.