Mixed Blood’s latest production, The House of Spirits, is an engrossing tale of torture and human rights as well as a compelling family saga. The play is written by Caridad Svich and is based upon the novel by Isabel Allende, the niece of President Salvador Allende, a freely elected Maxist president who was killed during a military overthrow of his government in Chile in the 1970s.
The play starts with the reign of terror that followed the overthrow of President Allende and focuses on the life of Alba, one of the up to 130,000 persons who “disappeared” in the three-year aftermath of the military takeover. Alba is being tortured and repeatedly raped by her military guards, one of whom is the illegitimate son of her grandfather Esteban Trueba. To mentally escape this hell, Alba recounts the story of how her grandfather made his fortune and married her grandmother Clara. Esteban had been in love with Clara’s older sister Rosa, but Rosa died under mysterious circumstances before they could marry. Other characters include Ferula, Esteban’s much-put-upon sister who bonds with Clara but is banished by Esteban, Esteban’s and Clara’s daughter Blanco and Blanco’s lover the Pedro, a fiery political and romantic peasant.
|the house of spirits, presented through november 14 at mixed blood theatre. for information and tickets ($15-$28), see mixedblood.com|
The play has a soap-operatic quality, but it is thoroughly engaging. Intermixed in this family saga are snippets of an agenda for gender equality, economic rights, and human rights. Esteban Truebe starts out as a lovesick young man determined to make himself a wealthy man worthy of marrying Rosa. In the process, he takes on ruthless qualities. He repeatedly rapes the various peasant women who work for him on his estate and fathers a slew of illegitimate children in whom he takes no interest. Despite Esteban’s vicious nature, he is loved by Clara who stays with him until he brutally beats both her and their daughter Blanco. Fine ensemble acting resonates throughout the play with notable performances by Christina Acosta Robinson as Alba, Dario Tangelson as Esteban, and Nora Montanez as Ferula. Isabelle Ortega provides a captivating performance as Clara, a gentle and clairvoyant soul. The puppetry used by Ricardo Vazquez in the portrayal of Clara’s dog Barrabas is also well done, especially in Barrabas’s death scene.
Director Marcela Lorca has crafted a wonderfully well-paced show which holds the audiences interest as the various scenes flow one into the other. I was so enthralled in the production that I was disappointed when the action stopped for an intermission. The only minor flaw in the production was a few scenes where actors were running in and out of the scenery—supposedly to show the terror, but it often just caused confusion as to what exactly was occurring.
Mixed Blood’s production is the first bilingual production of this play, and the shifting of the spoken language from Spanish to English and English to Spanish appeared effortless. By the last half of the production, I did not even need to look at the lighted English translations of the Spanish-speaking scenes to understand what was happening. (I did wonder, however, why when the spoken languages shifted from Spanish to English that the lighted translations did not shift from English to Spanish.) The House of Spirits is compelling piece of storytelling along with a rich bilingual experience which should not be missed.