Yale Repertory Theatre’s Lydia: Tales From Telenovella

David Begelman

Yale Rep, under the artistic stewardship of James Bundy, has had the admirable foresight to enrich its schedule of productions with the works of promising Latino playwrights. It produced Jose Rivera’s Boleros for the Disenchanted in 2008, while Lydia, its current production, is Octavio Solis’s dramatization of events in the Mexican-American Flores family of El Paso during the 1970s. The city is the playwright’s birthplace, as well as a border town that at the time reflected many of its ethnic tensions. Lydia had its world premiere last year at the Denver Center Theater Company, to outstanding reviews.

Tony Sancho as Rene and Onahoua Rodriguez as Ceci in the east coast premiere of Lydia by Octavio Solis, directed by Juliette Carrillo, at Yale Repertory Theatre, February 6-28, 2009. Photo Carol Rosegg, 2009.

All the same, one wonders whether the family drama that unfolds during the course of Mr. Solis’s play centers on issues unique to Latino communities. The characters might have been any ethnic minority without substantial forfeiture of dramatic intent or purpose. That they speak Spanish tells you something about their lineage; it tells you nothing about why things happen the way they do in the Flores family. And happen they certainly do.

As drama, Lydia has an unfortunate tendency to have the problems of family members not only intensify (often unbearably) over the two and a half hour duration of the play, they appear to tumble out of nowhere at a steady, yet furious pace. It’s as if some infernal engine were churning out distress at breakneck speed.

Claudio, the paterfamilias (Armando Durán), is a night-shift cook who is alcoholic, surly, and abusive. When not stuck in his T.V. chair with headphones, he’s browbeating or assaulting family members, like his sensitive younger son Misha (Carlo Albán), an aspiring poet, or retreating to his bedroom in a snit.

Misha’s budding literary talent on occasion shows promise: “A tear from each eye lay on my pillow to make the moon jealous.” Not bad.

Themes of family disarray swirl around Ceci (Onahoua Rodriguez), a girl left gravely disabled, tremor-ridden, and aphasiac after a car crash before her 15th birthday, her quincea?nera. She had been hiding in the back seat of a Pontiac driven by the boy she loves, Alvaro (Christian Barillas) and her brother, Rene (Tony Sancho). She wound up with the car wrapped around a pole.

Ceci is most of the time confined to a pallet on the floor, except when she rises from it to transform into a wraith-like embodiment of what she really feels inside her spastic exterior. One emotion is unfulfilled sexual longing.

Naturally, all family members are guilt-ridden over Ceci’s tragedy, while other epiphanies over gay-bashing, screaming fits, physical assaults, and sudden revelations about homosexuality follow each other breathlessly during the second act. As if to underscore the theme of sexuality gone amok coursing through Lydia, the curtain falls on Misha doing something incestuous with his stricken sister: a tableau the demonic would die for. Misha evidently feels he has to rise to the occasion in order to satisfy his sister’s sexual longings.

The eponymous Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz) is a character who first seems to be a ray of sunshine in the life of the Flores family. An illegal immigrant from Mexico, she enters the household as a maid who turns out to be a skilled cook born to put the home in order. She even strips plastic wrappings off lamps, to provide better lighting in the living room. Tending to Ceci in a nurturing way, she has the gift of divining the girl’s inner thoughts and sentiments, as if she had aptitude in brujeria.

Lydia’s dark side is not long in coming. Out of nowhere she starts a sexual relationship with dad, further alienating him from his self-sacrificing and devout wife, Rosa (Catalina Maynard). Rosa’s faith in spiritual healing is coupled with negligence over administering Ceci’s medication, much to the chagrin of brother Misha.

The overall effect of Lydia is one that leaves the audience wondering what other nasty surprises will be sprung during the course of the play. The latter showers you with enough brutal family melodrama to last a lifetime (or at least as long as an extended run on telenovella). You can be battered with concussive narrative just so long, before the result is tedium—precisely an upshot of Lydia.

All performers in Mr. Soli’s play are accomplished; their burden is a script that has them hauling some pretty heavy material around in a never-ending, and calamitous bout of darker telemundo fare.

Juliette Carrillo’s direction is accomplished, and Beth McGuire’s Vocal and Dialect coaching lent an authentic aspect to the Latino lilt of English. Jesse Belsky’s Lighting Design had a sameness about it in most group scenes, although put to advantageous use in Ceci’s transformation into her glowing, articulate self.

Although this reviewer was seated in the middle of the house at Yale Rep, some of the dialogue was difficult to hear. The playbill was helpful in translating several idiomatic Spanish terms spoken in Lydia, although longer passages of dialogue in this language tended to disadvantage audience members who are not bilingual.

When one of the characters asks Rosa why misfortune seems to be the lot of the Flores family, she responds, “ Why? There is no why.” Spirituality sometimes makes a good point.

Lydia opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street on February 6 and continues until February 28, 2009. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (203)-432-1234 or online at yalerep.org.

This review will be published in New Fairfield’s The Citizen News, and posted on

Website of the Connecticut Critics Circle, www.ctcritics.com.

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