The central figure in Lydia is a brain-injured young girl who rises periodically to speak to the audience, then subsides again on her pallet in the middle of the family living room, grunting and moaning. Trapped in her stiffening body, Ceci burns with sexual desire and a longing to continue her tragically interrupted life. Her family is completely dysfunctional — and apparently was so before the car accident in which she was injured. Claudio, Ceci's father, is a sodden drunk who spends most of his time slumped in an armchair, wearing headphones, occasionally rousing himself to beat his wife or younger son, Misha. Materfamilias Rosa finds consolation in Pentecostalism. Misha — a sensitive soul nicknamed by his mother for Baryshnikov — is no leaper, but he is a poet; older brother Rene is brooding, violent and sexually confused. Into this charged environment comes Lydia, an illegal immigrant Rosa has hired as a maid, and her arrival sets off a cascade of tumultuous events. Lydia is the sexy, healthy, confident young woman Ceci can never be, and the two form an instant understanding, with Lydia tending to Ceci, breaking her terrible isolation and translating her guttural howls for the others. But is Lydia ultimately a force for good or ill, a life-giver or a representative of death?
Octavio Solis's play, one of three commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company, evokes a multitude of charged ideas: the painful realities of exile and the ways in which people adjust to or are broken by it; homosexuality in a macho culture; sex as a wild, chaotic impulse that can lead to spiritual imprisonment or joyous freedom; the redemptive power of art; Vietnam; the politics of immigration as seen by those in the States either legally or illegally; and, of course, the lies and secrets that both glue families together and hurl them apart. There are wonderful concepts, like the imaginary ant game that Ceci and her brothers used to play, which still provides a spiritual space in which they can come together. The heightened action, the swirl of images, the snatches of feverishly poetic speech — all of it is exciting to experience and, along with the script's mixture of Spanish and English, creates a kind of music.
But the play also has flaws, and by the second act they have accumulated sufficiently to bog down the production. By the time we learn how the car accident happened, for instance, we've already heard so many hints about it and been privy to so much anguished discussion that the revelation seems both obvious and anti-climactic. And for all the loving detail that's gone into the creation of the characters, much of what they do simply doesn't make sense. Rosa's intense religiosity causes her to discard Ceci's medication early in the play; learning of this, Misha is appalled. We expect something to come of it: Will Ceci's condition deteriorate? Will Rosa at some point be forced to re-evaluate her decision? Perhaps the lucidity of Ceci's monologues to the audience is only possible because she's no longer drugged. Perhaps it's this lucidity that leads to the tragedies that follow. We can speculate all we want; Solis doesn't enlighten us.
Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 1, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.
So you think up mystical or metaphorical explanations to make all the events cohere. You ponder the odd twinship of Lydia and Ceci, and the way Rosa comes to accept Lydia as her daughter. Is Lydia's fall from grace the result of Ceci's silent prompting? If so, is Ceci's motivation loving or malign, or is she using Lydia to fulfill a fantasy of her own? Is Misha's passionate love for Lydia a mirror image of something forbidden that he feels for his sister? You can find textual evidence for any or all of these interpretations, but somewhere, somehow, at some point — and I don't mean in a literal or reductive sense — Solis should give you some hint, and he simply doesn't. He just tosses all these charged elements together and leaves them for you to sort out. By the evening's end, you're begging for clarity.
Under the direction of Juliette Carrillo, the performances are all good. Carlo Alban is a touching Misha, Rene Millan a sexy, anguished Rene. Onahoua Rodriguez brings passion and grace to the role of Ceci. And Stephanie Beatriz's Lydia, with her cockiness and calm, her mischievous sweetness, is worth the price of admission all on her own.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.