Saturday, February 28, 2009

La Casa de los Espiritus (The House of the Spirits)

Photo/Michael Palma

I have to break my usual third-person narrative here--and in fact, step back from reviewing the new show at Repertorio Espanol--to get a few personally problematic things out of the way. Repertorio Espanol provides a valuable service to the community, but for an English-only speaker like myself, their productions present somewhat of a problem. While it's true that headsets are provided, their live translations are perfunctory at best and fairly distracting in practice--it's hard enough to invest in a theatrical illusion, harder still when your hear it whispering in your ear. (There's a reason operas use supertitles: you want to hear the language.) Given this technical issue, there are many things I can't, in fairness, review.

However, as I said earlier, Repertorio Espanol provides a service, and it's one worth noting, especially to those who speak Spanish. After all, where else can you see a new Caridad Svich play? And though it's just an adaptation of Isabel Allende's debut 1982 novel, director Jose Zayas directs it with a modernist's touch, using projections and layered blocking to show multiple perspectives--and to keep the protagonist Alba on stage throughout, though she isn't actually born until Segundo Acto. From what I understood, it didn't seem as if Svich was playing to her strengths--everything seemed a bit too ordinary--and Zayas's work seems to have been toned down for the Repertorio's audience. (The sort of rape scene that flew at PS122's Southern Promises might be out of place here, but it's the sort of physical energy needed for this play.)

It doesn't help that La Casa de los Espiritus spans such a long period of time--three generations. At two and a half hours, there seem to be gaps in the plot, as with the physical relationship between patriarchal Esteban Trueba and his prostitute and the cultural implications of the era (for instance, explaining why Alba is abducted and tortured). Worse, though the novel is described as a feminist One Hundred Years of Solitude, none of the magical realism has made it through, though both Zayas and Svich are capable of dreaming up fantasies and giving them flesh. Again, I'm reluctant to speak with authority here, but if you only speak English, you might be better off with the novel.

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