Octavio Solis’ “Lydia” is now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop at 12th Avenue Arts, through June 24.
Tragedy begets tragedy in dysfunctional family drama from ancient Greece to the here and now. But while the theatrical paradigm persists, the cultural context is infinitely various. As Tolstoy put it, “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The fall of a Chicano clan in the Texas border town of El Paso began years before the play “Lydia” opens. A mysterious car accident two years earlier left a teenage girl severely brain-damaged and her limbs contorted. But violence, machismo, poverty, shame, sexual repression and immigrant oppression (among other social and personal sins) have plagued this family just as profoundly.
“Lydia” is a blast-furnace drama by California playwright Octavio Solis, now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop at 12th Avenue Arts. Forcefully guided by director Sheila Daniels, the actors impressively merge here into an ensemble of visceral power.
by Octavio Solis. Through June 24, Strawberry Theatre Workshop production at 12th Avenue Arts, Seattle; $27-$36 (800-838-3006 or strawshop.brownpapertickets.com).
Written in an easily understood Spanish-English (Spanglish), spiked with mordant humor, poetic realism and gut-punch strength, “Lydia” unfolds on a cramped set that evokes the modest working-class home of Claudio (Ray González), his wife Rosa (Carolyn Marie Monroe) and their three children.
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Ceci (remarkable Sofía Raquel Sánchez) spends her days lying on a mattress in the middle of the living room; she’s also center stage in the family consciousness. The cause of the crash that demolished her youth is shrouded in collective guilt. But she isn’t the only damaged one here.
Her elder brother Rene (a cyclonic Rafael Molina) bristles with aggression, and spends restless nights gay-bashing and running from the police. Her younger brother (an aspiring writer nicknamed Misha — in honor of ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov — who is soulfully played by Andrew Pryor-Ramírez) retains some of sweetness of innocence, despite being his frustrated father’s whipping boy.
Into this house of pain drifts Lydia (radiantly embodied by Yadira Duarte), an undocumented Mexican immigrant hired as a cleaner and caregiver for Ceci. Her essential goodness and sanity are balm to the weary, battle-scarred household — for a time.
The compassionate Lydia is a liberating force for Ceci, who comprehends more than her family realizes. We know a lot about what’s swirling inside the invalid’s mind, through undulating waves of poetic, luscious and fierce memory voiced for our ears only. Sanchez gives two mesmerizing performances in one, and has the preternatural ability to switch seamlessly between Ceci’s twisted body and inchoate speech, and her pre-crash physicality and verbal reveries.
Lydia also soothes Gonzalez’s scarily sealed-in, brutal Claudio, and revives the lonely Misha. But her presence triggers erotic desires and festering resentments, too. And the arrival of Alvaro (Pablo López), a relative just back from the Vietnam War, adds another stick of dynamite to the menudo.
The Vietnam era is largely defined by ’60s pop hits, which mingle with vintage Mexican love songs as background. And the feminist revolution certainly hasn’t happened yet for the weary Rosa, who tries to stay oblivious to the family chaos — until denial doesn’t work anymore. (Monroe reads young for Rosa, and misses some of the role’s spacey-steely nuances.)
As for Duarte’s Lydia, she’s both a mythic curandera (healer) and ultimately a victim of her own generosity and America’s immigration policies which, if anything, are even harsher today.
A climactic turn of events echoes the harrowing betrayal in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge.” Solis clearly has absorbed Miller’s domestic tragedies and Sam Shepard’s explosive surrealism, and shares some of the gritty/lyrical sensibilities of fellow Latino playwrights like Nilo Cruz and Luis Alfaro.
In the award-winning “Lydia,” he plunges you into the turmoil of interconnected lives — and leaves you thrilled, stunned and moved.