The setup: Orange Theatre Group has been working since last summer to develop an experimental theater production inspired by Federico García Lorca's 1933 play Blood Wedding. The show is about two-thirds complete, and that two-thirds is a stunning (yet appropriately bizarre) event that's quite unlikely to be much like anything you've ever seen before. In a good way.
Coincidentally with the company's relocation to a mysterious, James Cameron-esque warehouse alongside the railroad tracks behind Chase Field, its performances have grown in precision and coherence and, at least for the time being, cast trenchant illumination on the revered dramatic texts that serve as ground zero. This is good news for both Orange and most of its potential audience members, because experimental performance that maintains the conventions of character and plot is significantly more accessible to mainstream theatergoers, perhaps helping everyone warm up for even weirder and more important work to come.
The execution: You could prepare for seeing this show by reading a translation of the script, but, refreshingly, the production makes much of the action and mood even more clear than it is on the page, as well as less self-conscious about its symbolism. Lorca hung around with a lot of surrealists, but the tropes of that movement don't typically intrude into his plays except when he shifts into verse or song. (Or stage directions, which include "The Moon is a young woodcutter, with a white face" and "Two violins are heard far off which express the forest." Yikes.)
Even as the actors must meet OTG's typical unusual demands to interact with audiovisual technology, they kick ass as characters who appear to have been conceived as stilted archetypes, bringing them to complex, inescapable life. Katrina Donaldson, as most of the Bride (more on that distinction later), is as compelling, impressively tireless, and somehow also eerily natural as she always is (for example, in her uncredited 2012 PHX:fringe appearance in hair & fingernails).
Elizabeth Peterson (The Seduction of Almighty God, Caroline, or Change) is a juggernaut of wounded pride and regally sloppy emotion as the Mother of the Bridegroom. Both actresses are riveting, both emphasizing and being emphasized by Colleen Lacy's deceptively simple costumes, which are somehow classy, flattering, sex-positive, and kind of industrially oppressive, all at once.
As the Bridegroom, William Crook shows the strengths he demonstrated so well in You You Shouldn't Come Back, countering his castmates' passionate excesses with affected anomie, dry wit that distances the actor from the text just that crucial little bit, and fierce dance moves. (In this show, the cathartic break employs "Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)" -- familiar to many of us from Beetlejuice -- and it actually falls where characters would be dancing in Lorca's script! You know, because there really is a wedding in there somewhere.)
Back to "most of the Bride." Your head, your socks, your doors, what have you, will be blown off by what Donaldson and Carrie Fee accomplish with the assistance of some technical tricks. It's like the woman (which one? I can't even explain) is possessed. Add in the smoothly rolling set pieces and giant old video monitors (check out the photo above) with the whole ensemble capering about as though they're not about to be crushed by something, and you'll have to remind yourself to breathe.
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The sixth actor, Colby Terrill, is also powerful and effective, as is the necessarily numerous and brilliant running crew. Director Matthew Watkins knows how to pull your attention where it needs to be, random though the machinations may seem.
The verdict: Much of Lorca's more straightforward dialogue and the main events of Blood Wedding's storyline are preserved in this work in progress, which should let you relax and allow the magic of the trippy concept to wash over you. It will feel almost as though you've never seen acting, heard recorded sound, or been introduced to the concept of film or television before. You might need to invent a religion afterward to protect yourself from the terrifying spirits who command such powers.
Blood Wedding continues through Saturday, December 21, at Levine Machine, 605 East Grant Street, #98. If you're looking for it in the dark, keep in mind that it's in the part of the complex that's closest to Seventh Street. And it's a difficult space to heat, so dress in many layers. And prepare for a super-cool raffle in which you can choose which prize(s) to buy ticket(s) for. Admission is pay-or-donate-what-you-can, but you can reserve a seat in advance (not a bad idea; last Sunday evening was pretty full). Call 602-456-0684 if you're too lost or confused.