In a hard, dry “biscuit-colored table land … like a landscape in traditional ceramics,” Federico García Lorca sets a story on the eve of a wedding, with inheld passion rising like a flood.
His Andalusian love triangle comes to the Berkshires in a contemporary setting with new music, fluid space and influences from Southern Gothic to Japanese Noh theater. Kameron Steele directed “Blood Wedding” at the Williams College ’62 Center, from Oct. 15 to 17.
Steele has studied and worked with Tadashi Suzuki’s SCOT company in Toga, Japan, and directed from New York to Argentina — shows ranging from the Bacchae to Tennessee Williams. For “Blood Wedding” he has moved between an English translation and the original Spanish, to capture the visceral feeling of Lorca’s language.
“He has amazing images,” Steele said. “Teeth, nails, men who are wheat, ‘the roots of my hair,’ ‘stings in my eyes’ … you can feel the emotions he describes.”
“Blood Wedding” begins in natural settings and then it smashes open, he said. It heads into the woods and into poetry. And poetry is Lorca’s natural world. Even in a plain house, the Wife sings a lullaby: “His muzzle all steaming / with fly-flecks of silver / would not touch the soaking / dark bank of the river …”
Passion and fantasy are “brimming at the surface,” Steele said, “pressure building until it bursts forth.”
Music enhances the music of the script. Williams College professor of music Ileana Perez Velazquez has composed an original score for cello, violin and percussion.
“Her music is very complex, with great lyricism,” Steele said.
He knew her sound, influenced by composers like John Cage and Schoenberg, and he wondered what would happen if she took on thi kind of narrative. Her response has excited him.
“She’s created a masterpiece,” he said. “She used Andalusian music as a springboard — she’s gotten the actors to sing very complex music.”
But moving from an everyday world into a fantastic one can challenge actors and directors too.
“I see it all the time,” he said, “people who don’t know how to stage the unnatural or the surreal.”
He has trained in this work, he said, and he has created his own kind of magical realism. When it works, scenes move organically from natural to unreal, so that the rules hold together. In the way actors speak and move, they make a new world possible, and the audience accepts it.
“In something like Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare, Lorca, you have to get into the elements of magic,” he said — “vocal and physical expression beyond what people see in their everyday lives.”
Magic reverberates in the lighting, set design, music and objects Lorca weaves into his poetry — sweetmeats, clasped hands, a silver knife. Steele makes tangible on stage the kind of symbolism Lorca uses in his language.
“We won’t shy away from that,” he said.
The Bridegroom pulls out the knife in the first scene, and he uses it … Leonardo’s wife uses it … two men dance with it in the forest in the moonlight.
In the flexible theater space, a long bridge connects two sides — the side of consciousness and the sun, and the side of night, subconsciousness, desire: a world where everything is reversed and upside-down, even a duel to the death. Most of the action takes place between them, Steele said. He sees Lorca’s characters caught and pulled between passion and society, individual and family.
“Don’t ignore your nature, because sooner or later it will come back and force its hand and create a mess,” Steele said. “… It’s the theme of so many plays — a tension between chaos and order, conscious and unconscious. They have to find a balance between will and acceptance.”
Lorca knew these tensions as a gay man. His world would not accept what he naturally felt, what he naturally was. In lyrical and mythic language, Steele said, Lorca expressed very real sexual friction, class friction and, in this staging, racial friction.
“As a director, you have to deal with race,” Steele said. “Theater and the arts are very segregated.”
He has dealt with it language, Spanish spoke and sung, and in casting the Bridegroom and Leonardo, the rivals. The two actors come from different backgrounds, and they will switch roles from one performance to the next. Steele encourages people to see both and listen to the way their perceptions change.
The actors have also found it useful, he said, to try more than one role and to see each one objectively. A painter or a writer can set work aside and come back to it — an actor is always in the moment.
And the actors, in the end, carry the transition from one world to the other. It takes a depth of skill, he said, and he enjoys teaching. Actors working together can evolve a style of movement and a vocal style, like dance. Bodies can be more expressive. And they can move people.
“People are stuck on devices all the time, less and less in our bodies, less an less live,” he said. “I hope theater can help to keep us human. We need to use more liveness, live music …”
He has directed at arts colleges and universities, and he has found this cast more open and responsive than many,
“Williams actors are intelligent, and they have a kind of abandon,” he said. “They’ve responded to the discipline. It takes a lot of sweat.”
This story, updated here, ran in the A&E section of the Berkshire Eagle on Friday, Oct. 16. Many thanks to A&E Editor Jeffrey Borak.