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Gala Hispanic Theatre The Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother

By • Feb 7th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother, adapted from the Gabriel García Márquez short story by Jorge Alí Triana and Carlos José Reyes
Gala Hispanic Theatre
Tivoli Theatre, Washington DC
Through February 27th
1:35 with one 15 minute intermission
$20-$36
Reviewed February 6th, 2011

So what about the green blood? Where is it? For me, the green bloodbath is a high point in Gabriel García Márquez’s long short story The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that the Gala Hispanic Theatre production of a stage adaptation of Eréndira is totally green blood free. If you’ve read the story … well, be warned. If you’re unfamiliar with García Márquez’s early (1972) exercise in magical realism, well, be warned that some of the magic and some of the realism have been drained away (understandably — a stage has production limits not shared by a page.)

Adaptations are always prey for quibblers who are fondly protective of the original. But, even as a quibbling fond protector, I’ll admit that this adaptation by Marquéz’s fellow Colombians Jorge Alí Triana and Carlos José Reyes is an engaging and imaginative rendition of a bizarre tale. The current Gala Hispanic Theatre production is in Spanish, with English surtitles.

Here’s the basic story: Eréndira is a guileless 17-year-old orphan. She lives, more or less as a slave, with her batty, self-obsessed grandmother. When by accident Eréndira knocks over a candle and burns down her grandmother’s palatial house, a bad situation becomes much, much worse. Grandma figures that granddaughter owes her thousands and thousands of pesos. As a former prostitute, grandma can only think of one way for granddaughter to pay off this huge debt: prostitution.

So off they go to remote places were womenless men are stationed. Eréndira services them by the hundreds. Then some priests and nun intervene. They turn Eréndira into their own slave, charged with keeping the nuns’ convent stairs immaculately white.

True love raises it’s beguiling head. But despite the arrival of a ragged prince charming, a happy lovy-dovey ending is not part of the Garcia Márquez plan.

The “Eréndira” scenario is not intrinsically dramatic. The title character is a passive non-entity, a helpless victim to whom mostly unpleasant things happen. The grandmother is a sensational specimen; but once we’re onto her routine, she is not a source of dramatic surprises. And then there’s the familiar monotonous dynamic of “road” stories. The main characters go here, they go there, they do this, they do that — it’s one damn thing after another.

García Márquez’s coruscating prose (and Miguel de Cervantes’s coruscating prose in Don Quixote, to take another on-the-road example) take hold of us. But the Eréndira story is long on baroque description and short on utilitarian dialogue — which makes adaptation tricky.

Adapter Triana directs the Gala production. The considerable strength of his show relies mainly on good actors having fun with colorful characters.

As Grandma, Colombian actress Laura García is blazingly colorful. García has a gravelly voice that serves well for heedless slave-driving moments. And it serves splendidly for raspy renditions of moldy romantic boleros — imagine “Bésame mucho” as perhaps rendered by an aging Kermit the Frog.

Seriously excellent singing interludes are provided by José Arturo Chacón. Composer Germán Arrieta has provided ironic little ditties that comment on the action. Chacón (who is the show’s music director) performs them with sly, wry bravura. His sung comments are reminiscent of the biting wit of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill collaborations the early 20th Century — Threepenny Opera, for example.

Like Brecht and Weill, the Marquéz/Arrieta/Triana collaborators do not flinch when it comes to preposterous incidents. The prince charming character, played by Chilean Ignacio Menendes, resorts to heaps of rat poison, a passel of dynamite and, finally, a pruning knife in his efforts to win Eréndira. Menendes is indeed charming, unspoiled but relentless, lusty and libidinous, but also romantic and tentative.

The ungainly role of Eréndira falls to Paola Baldión. She is sometimes called upon to represent sleepwalking. She can say “Yes, Grandmother” in her sleep. She can also service throngs of clients while in a comatose state. Even when she is close to fully alert she never scintillates. Baldión is true to her character and true to the play text — but what an unrewarding sort of loyalty!

Part of Baldión’s dilemma is that she personifies an implausible but perennial fantasy — the abuse victim who “really likes it,” the sex worker who “really likes me.”

A supporting cast of 10 actors all play two or three roles each. They provide vivid little vignettes. The unfortunate Alvaro Palau, however, is cast as a sort of zombie statue in a silver lamé shroud. The part is not only irrelevant — it is also distracting and perplexing.

Lighting by Klyph Stanford, set by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden and costumes by Marcela Villanueva help create an exotic and constantly shifting stage picture.

Gabriel García Márquez has a lot of name recognition. His books, mostly remarkably “100 Years of Solitude,” have sold millions of copies. He won a Nobel Prize in 1982. His fame offers tempting marketing prospects to theaters. But his relentlessly idiosyncratic style is hardly perfect for stage adaptation. Not that green blood would be an impossible technical challenge. But one can understand, sensational special effect not withstanding, why it is one of the idiosyncracies that director Triana decided to do without.

Disclaimer: Gala Hispanic Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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