Olives and Blood
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
June 11, 2012
Federico Garcia Lorca wasn’t yet forty when he was shot and killed, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The exact circumstances are to this day unclear but in Olives and Blood, Michael Bradford speculates on the circumstances and the people involved.
Lorca himself was a passionate man, brimming with vitality, ego and talent. He directed his energies to the arts, writing poetry, prose and drama, becoming accomplished in all of them. His friends were equally brilliant, Salvador Dali, Manuel de Falla, and Luis Bunuel among them.
As is the way of tyrants and small-minded men, such brilliance is envied and resented, and reasons are found to act against it. As Lorca says, when tyranny begins to strike down its enemies, the artists are the first to go.
Lorca says more than once, “A Spaniard is more alive after his death than on the day of his birth.” Lorca knows he is going to die. They have arrested and shot his brother-in-law and when they try to pin espionage and collaboration with the Russians on him, he understands what’s happening.
Here we meet Trescante, really the focus of the play; he is son of a wealthy mogul, given everything by his father, Eduardo, yet unable to make anything of himself. Perhaps he has been spoiled, or cowed, but we meet him decades later, when the Spanish authorities once again decide to look into the mystery of Lorca’s death and summon those still living to testify to what they know.
Trescante, by his own repeated admission "was there" and is proud of his part in ridding Spain of such traitors as Lorca, such men of deviant ideas and behavior. But through Bradford’s fine and gradual unfolding of the tale, we come to understand the truth of this man and how he has arrived at his current squalid existence.
The play moves back and forth between the death of Lorca and the time of the inquiry, each player taking on different parts to fill in the story. Gian-Murray Gianino gives us the dashing and vital Lorca, a young poet in his prime, full of life and full of himself, joyous, utterly charming; a liberal thinker out of step with the Church, flaunting social taboos.
Gilbert Cruz is poised and commanding as the patriarch Eduardo, and equally compelling as the Fascist Alonso. He sets a high bar for his fellow players. Armando Riesco as Trescante, has the difficult task of playing both the young man and the old, but by the end of the play he has warmed to his character’s essence.
Rey Lucas and Jorge Cordova do justice to their various characters, friends and foes of the poet. Kristina Valada-Viars takes on the generations of prostitutes called on by Trescante and his father, and the role of a key actress in Lorca’s theatrical company.
I saw the opening night performance and I suspect there were the usual opening night jitters. The director, May Adrales, covers all the bases but the production is uneven and has a few significant but fixable flaws.
Guitarist Nick Trautmann accompanies with beautiful and accomplished Spanish melodies but is too loud for the dialogue. Rather than enhancing the text, the music competes with it and often makes it difficult to follow Lorca’s poetic language.
The costumes, by Becky Bodurtha, mostly work, except for Trescante’s unkempt shirt and pants that felt to me like an American college kid’s sloppy choices, not the clothes of a wealthy young Spanish kid at the beginning of the twentieth century or an old man living in filth.
The actors themselves, other than Gianino and Cruz, don’t yet connect with the diversity and richness of their characters, something that can come with more performance. And oddly, for me the inconsistent accents, from quasi-Spanish to flat American, are a little detracting from the action.
The set design by Gian Marco Lo Forte, is efficient and in keeping with the tone of the play and Jiyoun Chang lights the action effectively.
The play is solid and the story is timely. We can never, I think, have enough stories that show the truth of some so-called political actions There are always men like the men portrayed here, ready to play their parts in destroying others in order to destroy their freedom—of expression, of lifestyle, of religious beliefs.
What has changed? Eighty years ago it was Spain, today it is Syria, and here in this country many of us still battle for the freedom to live our lives as we want.
Fortunately Lorca left behind a body of work to remember him by. Olive and Blood is a moving piece of theatre that reminds us of his life and his sacrifice.