Lydia at the Mark Taper Forum

The players in this play are the Flores family and they, like millions of Mexican aliens living the U.S., are trying to live the American dream that may seem to be a bit out of reach.

For a struggling family like this, their deep-rooted heritage is a barrier to the new world and their hopes and dreams have been placed on the hands of their children. Octavio Solis’ Lydia quickly strips off the top layer to reveal a dark and immensely moving drama.

Set in the border town of El Paso across the way from the city of Juarez in the 1970s, the play focuses on Rosa (Catalina Maynard), her abusive alcoholic husband, Claudio (Daniel Zacapa), and their three children: Micha (Carlo Alban), Rene (Tony Sancho), and Ceci (Onahoua Rodriguez).

The play focuses on Ceci and moves between a world that is all about diaper changes and oatmeal dinners to the vivid world inside her head that, sadly, no one will ever understand.

Though each one has their personal issues to deal with, as a unit, they must contend with the completely dependent Ceci, who suffered a brain injury from an accident a few days before her confirmation a few years earlier. To help around the house, Rosa has hired an illegal alien as a caretaker for their daughter.

Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz) enters the family like an unwanted houseguest and sets out to air their dirty laundry by seducing each member in her own way. In particular, she quickly develops a deep connection with Ceci as she is able to understand her language of garbles and grunts.

With a solid cast that is able to handle Solis’ subtle nuances and project deeply moving and complex characters, the audience at the Mark Taper Forum was riveted as they watched this brutal study of family dysfunction unfold before their eyes.

Beatriz, small in frame but with a charged energy was a formidable match to Rodriguez’s eloquent speeches and sexual yearnings trapped in a body that is, in fact, useless.

Alban is perfect as the awkward youngest son on the brink of puberty while Sancho captures that restless youth of the seventies – watching on TV as countless bodies are called off back from Vietnam.

Though his rebellion is not only taken out on his family but also on the hapless “homos” he beats up at the local cruising spots – that specific aggression is only a mask for a deeper conflict within himself, involving his cousin, Alvaro (Max Arciniega).

The play comes full circle in the triangle that develops between Ceci, Alvaro, and Rene – the key to unlocking the secret of that fateful night of the accident. What results is a deeply sorrowful reflection on family. Early in the play, Rosa says that, as a mother, she sees everything. By the end of the play, she admits that she knows nothing of what goes on in her house.

It’s a dark brooding play, to be sure, and at almost three hours in length, it’s sure to sound like a depressing study, but Solis peppers the dialogue with comedy to keep it sailing along and the poetic monologues delivered with passion by Rodriguez are beautiful to behold.

At times, though, the comedy may seem out of place during some of the most revealing aspects of the play, but maybe that’s the playwright’s intent.

Director Juliette Carrillo shows a competent understanding of the play and the exceptional lighting design by Christopher Akerlind brings it to full life.

It is one of those rare pieces that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre and haunts you for its honesty, brutality, and poetry.

Eurydice at the Hayworth Theatre

In an early scene in Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl’s retelling of the Eurydice myth, we see the title character’s father, who is dead and living in the underworld and desperately trying to communicate with her living daughter, go through the motions of giving her daughter away in marriage.

It is an almost perfectly touching scene. In the living world, Eurydice is about to marry Orpheus. The story is familiar and has been retold in opera, an Academy Award-winning film, and many other incarnations.

Orpheus travels to the underworld with the strictest of admonition not to look back at her on their journey back. He goes to retrieve his wife only to lose her when she calls to him and he turns back to look at her.

But, as the title suggests, the focus of this play is strictly Eurydice and her journey to the underworld to meet up with her father once again.

Ruhl’s “Eurydice” focuses, not so much on Orpheus (Erwin Tuazon), but on the emotional journey that Eurydice (Dina Percia) is faced with upon meeting her deceased father (Trevor H. Olsen).

It would appear that she has been seduced by a Nasty Interesting Man (Clayton Shane Farris) with the promise of a letter drafted by her father as a way to communicate from beyond.

Later, Farris is the Lord of the Underworld, bent on marrying Eurydice against her will. The question posed is, does she really love Orpheus enough to return to the living and eke out a living with a man who is not totally invested in her or does she stay with her father and learn the language of remembering?

Finding out is a journey in itself for those watching this play. Ruhl has infused the classic Greek Myth with offbeat sense of humor and a language which borders on lyrical if not poetic. Percia captures that ethereal quality nicely in her performance.

The set, with breakaway background and red pipes that resemble an underground pipe system, lends itself wonderfully to the atmosphere that the playwright has created.

So much of the visual as well as the sound design (by Adam Phalen) and costumes (Megan MacLean) resembling 1940s film noir adds to the surreal setting of the play and is held together tightly by director Trevor Biship.

Ruhl’s offbeat comedy keeps the play from becoming too syrupy, but it also keeps audiences at an emotional distance from the themes she explores. The stones (played by Leonard Zanders, Luaren Birriel, and Raymond Lee) all serve as a greek chorus strictly for comedic relief but only interact with the characters as echoes of what has already been established.

As for that perfectly touching scene mentioned earlier; it is replayed later in the play with actual father and daughter. It is moments like that which make it a moving piece. But so much of the quirkiness abstracts from it really taking off on that level.

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