Catharsis and dysfunction battle for the last word in Octavio Solis’ poetic and psychologically disturbing new work, “Lydia,” world-premiering as part of the Colorado New Play Summit. Ceci, who suffered a traumatic head injury in a car accident three days before her quinceanera, lives in two worlds: one clear-thinking and lyrical at the core of her otherwise damaged brain, and the other spasmodic and gurgling, unable to communicate with the outside world. Together, these disparate worlds provide a recipe for magical realism with a psycho-physiological twist.
As the narrator, Ceci (Onahoua Rodriguez) lucidly shares her inner-most thoughts and desires with the audience, painting a landscape filled with dreamy images; as a character, she struggles to communicate her most basic needs with her Mexican immigrant family in El Paso, Texas.
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Her mother, Rosa (Catalina Maynard) — exhausted from her daily trials of tending to Ceci, her surly husband and two demanding sons — takes a job to get out of the house. Enter Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz), a young and attractive illegal, as the family’s new maid.
“Who are you?” asks younger son Misha (Carlo Alban). Indeed, as scribe Solis plays it out, we wonder whether she is the Angel of Mercy or of Death. The answer depends upon our existential disposition; it also determines whether the play is a comedy or tragedy. The script’s detailed examination of diverse subject matter — ranging from Hispanic immigration and assimilation to materialism to incest — argues for tragedy, but the characters’ happiness depends upon comedy.
In the scribe’s hyperbolic storyline, the dark side wins out, as sexual boundaries fall prey to taboos and the poetry of despair. Instead of an instrument of healing, Lydia serves as a catalyst for further family dysfunction and disintegration. Plot twists offering comedic resolutions to the central conflict of Ceci’s salvation are ignored.
Miracles abound, however, in the performances, led by a transcendent Rodriguez, who alternately breaks the fourth wall, sharing Ceci’s poetic and passionate soul, and then breaks our hearts, struggling to express these feelings to her family.
Beatriz’s beatific equanimity infuses Lydia with enigmatic qualities that heighten the scribe’s intended moral ambiguity. Alban, as Misha, forces us to admire the young man’s courage, even if we find his choices untenable. Rene Millan crafts an edgy and unsettled Rene, the older brother wrestling with his sexuality in a macho culture.
We empathize with Maynard’s Rosa, whose American dream has gone sadly awry. Ricardo Guitierrez, as Claudio, the husband and father, harnesses the anger and tristesse of the dispossessed immigrant everyman, each appearance generating palpable tension. And Christian Barillas’s Alvaro, the distant cousin and former beau to Ceci, pains us with his misplaced patriotic zeal offered as proof of an American pedigree.
Scribe demands attention with his jazzy mix of Spanglish, poetry, pop lyrics, magical realism and emotional insight, but allows shock value to overtake the imperatives of character, leaving us bereft of a transformative experience.