Review: Water People Theater Brings Surreal and Magical Writing to Life with Lorca, Living the Experience

I was first introduced to Federico Garcia Lorca in my fourth year of Spanish at Mother McAuley High. La Casa de Bernarda Alba was a risky choice for a Catholic girl’s school, but then Lorca’s writing was the definition of risk during the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Water People Theater’s rendering of Lorca, Living the Experience was an evening of immersion in a blend of passion, magical realism, surrealism, and music. Iraida Tapias adapted and directed this collection of Lorca’s best known works of poetry and drama. The use of projections and video mapping by Oliver Kirsch and Fernanda Rodriguez heightens the surreal qualities of Lorca’s meditations on the value of freedom and the weight of suppression.

A highlight of the show for me was the scene from La Casa de Bernarda Alba. A projection of Carlota Sosa looms over the daughters consigned to eight years of mourning with their controlling and bitter mother. Sosa plays a frightening and oppressive mother determined to make her daughters suffer for her being widowed twice. The scene is an amalgam of the last act when the youngest daughter Adela (Ana Santos) is discovered to be having an illicit affair with the stable man Pepe. Adela hangs herself and Sosa whispers venomously to her surviving daughters to keep their grief inside and be silent. It is as chilling as I remember it.

Camilo Rasquin and Ana Santos Photo by Eva Vidal.

Love and loss of freedom are running themes in Lorca’s work. Yerma is a vignette of a barren woman who longs for a male child to suckle and to lavish her affections on. Rebeca Alemán plays the abandoned wife who is trapped in a marriage to a philanderer who withholds affection. She cries at her breasts being shriveled and never allowed to nurse, her womanhood is dried up and she bears the shame of a married spinster. She goes to the river to wash clothes and fill the emptiness and is mocked by the other washerwomen (Kris Tori, Ana Santos, and Teresa Echeviste). Alemán is riveting as she listens to them talk about her husband and his lovers.

Rebeca Alemán. Photo by Eva Vidal.

The final vignette is called Mariana Pineda and is based on real-life incidents in Lorca’s hometown of Granada. Again, Rebeca Alemán plays a fierce and defiant dissident who stood up to King Ferdinand VII and was garroted for not giving up her compatriots for the liberal cause. It is eerily prescient of Lorca’s assassination by Franco’s forces who sought to root out homosexuals, artists, and anyone aligned with freedom and opposed to the right-wing forces of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. (Lorca’s body was never found; searches have continued for more than 80 years to find the bodies of Lorca and other dissidents who were murdered by Franco’s forces and probably dumped into mass graves.) Lorca’s work is infused with themes of death and what he saw as a uniquely Spanish obsession with death, blood, and decay. His imagery abounds with flowers blooming and then drying up representing more loss and grief.

Lorca, Living the Experience was a presentation of Instituto Cervantes, a valuable source of culture and language arts. Director Tapias spoke before the show to express gratitude for being able to enrich the resources of the institute and for rebounding from the pandemic. The work of Lorca by the Water People Theater company was a perfect reemergence. In case you are wondering, my Spanish is pretty good from classes and various adventures, but fear not—all presentations are in English and Spanish with projected subtitles on side screens and in the classes at Instituto Cervantes.

I recommend that you take a tour of the Institute at 31 W. Ohio St. They also offer classes in Spanish and several of the dialects of Spain. Lorca, Living the Experience was presented twice. I look forward to more productions at Instituto Cervantes. For more information, visit their website.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.