Monday, June 05, 2017

“Lydia” Encapsulates the Border Between Reality and Poetry

Carolyn Marie Monroe and Sofia Raquel Sanchez in Lydia (John Ulman)
Lydia
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through June 24, 2017

Strawberry Theatre Workshop has chosen a more-than-worthy play to present: Lydia by Octavio Solis. It’s hard to write about because there is just so much that should not be said before anyone sees the play! Even the barest minimums reveal aspects that would be better discovered by an audience that has no idea what they’re going to see.

Having said that, while it’s an intense, challenging, sometimes difficult journey, it’s a stellar effort and is definitely one of the most important plays you will see this year! If you like a play that sticks to you for weeks like glue, you will love seeing this one! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it on stage.

The press release blurb says: “Lydia centers on two young women who move across borders—one between nations, and one across metaphysical borders between unknown, unseen worlds. Although technically hired as a maid, Lydia's primary responsibility is caring for the family's near-vegetative teenage daughter named Ceci, who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident that occurred right before her quinceanera, or 15th birthday. Unlike the family that surrounds her, Lydia is able to translate Ceci's thoughts—an adolescent stew of childhood memories, criticism and carnality.”

Expanding that description, Lydia is a young woman of indeterminate age, clearly undocumented, who has just been hired as a maid/nanny for the American Flores household. The household contains a mother (Carolyn Marie Monroe), a father (Ray Gonzalez), an older son (Rafael Molina), a younger son (Andrew Pryor-Ramirez) and a daughter, Ceci – short for Cecilia (Sofia Raquel Sanchez). In a small but key role, Pablo Lopez plays Cousin Alvaro.

Before Lydia (Yadira Duarte) arrives, the early scenes set the table for the tones and styles of the piece. While Ms. Sanchez is called upon to twist her body into that of a cerebral palsy-style victim, we see her first speak in deeply poetic tones with special lighting to help us understand that we are now “in her thoughts” and not in real time. Kudos to Reed Nakayama for an intricate and beautifully rendered lighting scheme, helping us to differentiate between the internal-state and “reality”.

That singular need, for the actor to change instantly from quadriplegic to fully functioning teenager, is already a tremendous accomplishment for young Ms. Sanchez. She makes those transitions completely seamlessly with no hesitation between any of them.

So, one aspect to get used to is that particular transition. However, the script makes the leap to magic realism when Lydia shows up and seems to understand Ceci’s thoughts and needs. There are also moments when Ceci talks about what she thinks she sees and it’s hard to determine if she’s actually seeing reality, only translating it into dreams. Solis does not pull his punches in the writing to make it easy on an audience. He expects us to hang in there and struggle to understand.

Another aspect to get used to, for non-Latinos likely, is the blend of Spanish, English, and Spanglish in the play. Not being a Spanish-speaker, myself, but having a bit of a grasp of other language and context, it seems to me that the Spanish used does not always “need” translation, and that almost everything ends up pretty much understood. But, indeed, unless you know the language, it’s another way that Solis makes the audience sit up and work.

That is about all anyone should say about the plot or the production. I applaud Sheila Daniels for taking on the direction of this play – it would scare the pants off me to try to direct. Greg Carter does the usual great job on just enough set to work effectively. Rob Witmer’s sound design is very subtle. Caitlin Krida Cooke’s costumes are mostly understated and completely appropriate, but the quinceanera dress is gorgeous – though it looks so fragile that it doesn’t seem like it will make it through one weekend, much less a full run!

The cast is strong and strongly committed. They don’t shirk the tough stuff.

This is not family-friendly. It’s adult content and not for shrinking violets. This doesn’t mean you should skip it. You should pull yourself together and go see it.

For more information, go to www.strawshop.org or http://strawshop.brownpapertickets.com/ or call 800-838-3006.