Isabel Allende’s epic novel “The House of the Spirits,” punctuated by explosive events and characters, bursts forth in the circular Space Theater of the Denver Center Theater Company while leaving some open-ended questions. The elusive answers, in the form of projected text derived from the journal of the narrator, Alba (Meghan Wolf), climb the curtains, vibrate across the floor and get sucked into time-warped trap doors and exits.
Fans of magical realism, for whom the letting go of everyday expectations is a rite of passage to anomalistic phenomena, will find the emotional arc of the play true to the novel, despite the necessary cuts from its 400-plus pages.
Helmer Jose Zayas’ imaginative yet simple staging keeps the heart of the matter front and center, with the inexplicable never more than a few beats or a couple of steps away. Kudos for the judicious use of body mikes to overcome the normal audio challenges of working in the round.
Wolf’s haunting eyes and stealthy presence in every scene remind us of the story’s multiple levels, as her Alba processes the multigenerational details and ultimately delivers the salvos that bring her grandfather Esteban (John Hutton) to see his mistakes.
Hutton’s self-consumed Esteban is riveting throughout — in his excitement over Rosa the Beautiful (Allison Pistorius), in his vile bitterness toward his enemies and, finally, in his beaten down, introspective assessment and redemption, which provides the catharsis to this gripping drama.
The inspired choice of Franca Sofia Barchiesi as Clara pays metaphorical dividends as the clairvoyant 8-year-old masters her gift and grows into a strong matriarch before our eyes.
The ensemble delivers a delightful series of colorful depictions, including Drew Cortese’s frightening Esteban Garcia, Dion Mucciacito’s heroic troubadour Pedro Tercero and Pistorius’ translucent Rosa with those cat eyes and green hair. Strong performances also come from Jeanne Paulsen, Lawrence Hecht, Dena Martinez, Jeanine Serralles and Lanna Joffrey.
Caridad Svich’s script is true to Allende’s political discourse as well, delivering a series of relevant commentaries on the haves and have-nots, amplified by the action on the family ranch and other key events taken from Allende’s own life, including the assassination of her uncle (Salvador Allende) by the CIA-backed Augusto Pinochet and the consequent disappearances and torture campaigns.