[The following review appeared in Variety the week of February 3rd.]

Catharsis and dysfunction battle for the last word in Lydia, Octavio Solis' poetic and psychologically disturbing new work.

Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci
Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Ceci, victim of a traumatic head-injury—a car accident three days before her quinceañera—lives in two worlds, one clear-thinking and lyrical at the core of her otherwise damaged brain, and the other spasmodic and gurgling, unintelligible to the outside world.

Together, these disparate worlds provide a recipe for magical realism with a psycho-physiological twist: As the narrator, Ceci lucidly shares her inmost 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 El Paso domiciled Mexican immigrant family, writhing and exhorting her damaged instrument to no avail.

Stephanie Beatriz as Lydia
Stephanie Beatriz as Lydia
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Her mother, Rosa—exhausted from the daily trials of taking care of Ceci, catering to her surly husband, and nurturing her two demanding sons—takes a job to get out of the house. Enter Lydia, a young and attractive illegal, as the maid.

"Who are you?" asks the younger son, Misha, of Lydia. Indeed, as scribe Solis plays it out, we wonder whether she is the Angel of Mercy or Angel of Death. The outcome of the question depends upon our existential disposition; it also determines whether the play is a comedy or tragedy.

(L to R) Ricardo Gutierrez as Claudio and Carlo Albán as Misha
(L to R) Ricardo Gutierrez as Claudio
and Carlo Albán as Misha
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
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 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, leaving the potential tragic heroes only deviant choices: Dysfunction 1; Catharsis 0.

(Left to right) Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci and Catalina Maynard as Rosa
(L to R) Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci
and Catalina Maynard as Rosa
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Miracles abound, however, in the performances, led by a transcendent Onahoua 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 stage family.

Stephanie Beatriz' beatific equanimity infuses Lydia with enigmatic qualities that heighten the scribe's intended moral ambiguity. Carlo Albán, as Misha, forces us to admire the young man's courage, even if we find his choices untenable. René Millán crafts an edgy and unsettled Rene, the older brother, who wrestles with his sexuality in a macho culture.

(Left to right) Christian Barillas as Alvaro and René Millán as Rene
(L to R) Christian Barillas as Alvaro
and René Millán as Rene
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
We empathize with Catalina 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. Christian Barillas' 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.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Octavio Solis' Lydia runs through March 1st. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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