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Blood Wedding: Folk Tale Under a Glitter Moon

Fri., April 30, 1999

The Public Domain,
through May 8
Running time: 1 hr, 45 min

Blood Wedding

Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding drips with sadness and foreboding, and director Chris Cortez wrings the sorrow from it with a deft hand in this new production from The Public Domain. Based on a newspaper clipping that told of a young woman who ran off with the son of her family's enemy, Blood Wedding warns of the tragic results of a rash, aggressive society which answers its problems by lashing out in violence. Theresa Burke plays a bride-to-be -- on the outside, all smiles and giddy happiness for the upcoming ceremony, but inside, seething with doubt and forbidden passion. Her heart longs for a life with Leonardo, the brutish laborer already married to another woman. Eventually, the two run off together, leaving the woman's earnest fiancé as well as Leonardo's wife and newborn child stunned and humiliated. When the scorned bridegroom runs off in a rage to even the score, it leads to tragic consequences.

The play is performed mostly in English, although perhaps a quarter of the dialogue, including several songs, is in the author's native Spanish. For non-Spanish speakers, the play is not incomprehensible, but it does demand careful attention to catch the nuances and the plot points that may whiz by only once. And while the play relies on actors' body language to tell the story, many of the 17 cast members are simply not seasoned enough to pull this off smoothly, leading either to heavyhanded gesticulation or confusion. Cortez might have done well to have included a synopsis of the story in the program, but perhaps he was reluctant to ruin some of the play's unusual surprises.

While Lorca's unfolding love story itself holds no real surprises, the production itself does. The second act looks nothing like the first, with surreal masked woodcutters (resembling gigantic puppets) lumbering about and Martin Blacker bursting charismatically on the scene as the Moon by way of Gary Glitter. It's a welcome change in tone and style from the earthy, slow-moving first act, with the later scenes becoming reminiscent of folk tales in which the supernatural guides and collides with foolish mortals headed toward calamity.

Among the actors, Joey Hood as the much-maligned bridegroom and Sandra Salas as the woman's maid add a pleasant touch of naturalism, a welcome sight among the finger-pointing melodrama. Although I wanted to hear more sizzle in the scenes between Burke as the bride and Marco Noyola as her forbidden love, Burke still brings a welcome intensity to the role, and she has a grace and dignity that makes it easy to see why she was chosen as the heroine of The Public Domain's next show, Antigone.

For fans of the rarely staged and much-beloved Lorca, this Blood Wedding is a rare treat that should be savored. And for those unfamiliar with the executed playwright, it may be just the right introduction. -- Sarah Hepola


My Fair Lady: Not the Embassy Ball

The State Theater,
through May 16
Running Time: 2 hrs, 45 min

This is a tale of a soiled, gutter-bound wretch that takes up space downtown, plying her trade, chasing at the heels of the local gentlefolk, working in the shadows of the city's renowned and majestic theatre. She is discovered by a rigid academe, within whom, we discover, resides a kinder heart that, indeed, grows fond of his derelict charge as he transforms her into something stately and who undergoes a certain, not insignificant change of character himself.

The State Theater has reopened her doors -- redesigned, tarted up. A few quibbles about the space remain -- sightlines in the lower half of the house and acoustics to name two -- but the transformation is wonderful, the energy about the venue refreshing. A pity that the resident company chose this play to show off the new-look State, since for every moment to cherish, there are plenty that point out that the company does not yet know how to play in its new playhouse. James Barker's sets, clearly incomplete, perform a labored, leviathan ballet during innumerable set changes, at some points revealing the backstage: There goes the magic of theatre! The sets that are finished -- the Covent Garden scene, for instance -- display Barker's usual eye for detail and scenic painting genius. Housing the gifted orchestra on the upper floor of the house façade is an imaginative stroke. Buffy Manners pulls together a huge costume design right out of the movie (right down to Alfred P. Doolittle's hat), but most of it looks good. Ken Hudson's lighting is terrible, including awkward shifts and the use of white-hot spotlights during the songs that seems to indicate that the rest of the (usually dark) scenes don't count. As ever for an Austin musical, the sound support is a mixed bag, with Everett Skaggs, as Pickering, being the hardest to understand, in spite of his evident comfort and strong characterization.

Cade Siemers makes a boisterous, believably egotistical, and tart-tongued Henry Higgins, despite his youth. But his undulating body and manic hands (always pressing down his sweater like an embarrassed schoolgirl) betray a side of the English educational system most likely unintended by the authors. He is Rex Harrison-like in his portrayal, but Siemers can sing, and sing well. Boni Hester plays the street wench Eliza Doolittle, bullied by Higgins from flower-girl ignominy to phonetic glamour. Hester has been the darling of the State Theater Company (née Live Oak Theatre) for some time, but her usual bubbly energy seems small here; except when she's bathing in those tedious, song-highlighting spotlights, her Eliza is a faint character, difficult to detect. Hester delivers numbers like "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Just You Wait" with verve, yet cannot push her persona beyond the proscenium. Thomas C. Parker, usually an outstanding performer, goes grimly through the motions of the best role in the musical, that of Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle.

Unify the set; fix the lighting; hold still, Cade; enjoy yourself, Tom -- simple directions that could have made a world of difference. But you forgive director Don Toner, who spent much of the last months wielding a toolbag, leading the State's transformation from the Paramount's dingy stepsister to her peer.

This lackluster Lady may not be the breathtaking embassy ball debut for which the State Theater Company hoped, but now that Toner and company own their own venue -- and there's nowhere on earth they'd rather be -- the State will be around for a long, long time, which is a good thing. The State Theater, Austin's Eliza Doolittle, appears stoked for an exceptional future: Here's hoping that she infects her ward with a similar fire. -- Robi Polgar


Original Sin: Sexy, but a Misnomer

Tarrytown Gallery,
through May 15

First off, let me say that Ellen von Unwerth's collection of erotic photography titled "Original Sin" is not for everyone. In fact, I'm not quite sure who these bawdy bordello scenes are for, other than those of us looking for a cheap, good-looking thrill -- which, come to think of it, is not such a bad thing. After all, these alluring photos leave much to the promiscuous imagination. Von Unwerth shoots in black-and-white and sepia tones. She purposely leaves some out of focus and dark. Her models wear nothing more than masks and knee high stockings while frolicking in crushed red velvet chicken ranches. That said, are we to consider these photos anything more than high-end girlie pics?

The press releases announcing the show would have us adamantly reference the New Orleans father of steamy red light district photography, Ernest J. Bellocq, when we look at von Unwerth's work, presumably to lend this gallery touring show some artistic credence (89 of Bellocq's glass plates were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970). If we do that, then we might as well take the "Original" part of the exhibit's title out because von Unwerth's photos are almost exact reproductions of Bellocq's masked nudes. That in turn would leave us with the simpler epithet "Sin," which does have quite a ring to it. After all, the fact that von Unwerth, a longtime fashion photographer, is being touted as a visionary artist is a sin.

First of all, take a closer look at Bellocq's photography, by which von Unwerth is supposed to have been "inspired": His models were real prostitutes and denizens of Storyville, New Orleans' turn-of-the-century center of ill repute, not the supermodels that von Unwerth transplants from New York. Bellocq's women were rough-edged and crude instead of made-up and looking like they could be on the cover of Mademoiselle. If that doesn't beat all, we are then reminded by the sponsors -- the Tequila Sauza Estate Collection -- that von Unwerth, like Bellocq, makes sure not to belittle the models she is snapping in the altogether but rather makes a point to dignify them in these prints. Yeah, right. "Original Sin" is no more a collection of contemporary American art than Cindy Crawford is an American hero.

Von Unwerth was commissioned by the Tequila Sauza Estate to interpret the concept of original sin for this, the second annual show hosted by the tequila company. However, as an interpretive body of work, it is either vague or demeaning and seems to serve only as a platform for this better-than-average fashion photography. For example, is von Unwerth telling us that lust is the original sin, and if she is, why are there shots of dried flowers and a Louisiana swamp littered with tree stumps as in Plus Tard and Paradis Perdu? If anything, these are sweet interpretations of the passing of love or youth that don't have anything to do with the so-called raunchy depictions of women in the other photos. Then there is L'envie, a black-and-white photo of a masked, bare-chested model with her hands in the air and a seductive look on her face. Is the original sin lust, desire, or envy? Again, in the end it's best not to bother with the artistic merit and just go look at the sexy scenarios. Von Unwerth has done an excellent job at that. -- Sam Martin

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