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Latino Chicago Theater Company

It was gratifying to learn that Federico Garcia Lorca, the author of Once Five Years Pass, was shot dead while working on the play’s final draft. He was not killed for writing the play–unfortunately. But at least he got what he deserved.

Well, maybe that’s a bit severe–after all, Garcia Lorca is an internationally recognized poet and playwright–but anyone who would subject an audience to such an incoherent, self-indulgent display certainly deserves some sort of punishment.

I shouldn’t actually pin all the blame on Garcia Lorca, since his play–inscrutable as it is–has been muddled even further by its Latino Chicago Theater production. That production’s stupefying nature is perfectly captured by the synopsis included in the program: “Once Five Years Pass is a legend of echoes that need to be revealed through a transcendental intuition that gives a glimpse and shakes the curiosity of only those whom are ready to give of themselves and enter its fascinating labyrinth.”

Got that? No? Maybe this will help: “Once Five Years Pass belongs to a rare poetic world formed by singular gems, which precisely concedes to its peculiar explosive rarity, as well as to the illuminating dimension as a far off sphere of light.”

Obviously whoever wrote the synopsis had no clue what this play is about. That’s not surprising–Garcia Lorca provides few clues–but a theater company that plans to subject an audience to such a play should have at least a little insight into it. Claiming that Once Five Years Pass “composes a spectral sense of being” is just a pathetic attempt to mimic understanding.

Because the members of the Latino Chicago Theater Company are in over their heads, their production is flat-footed and incoherent–the actors merely recite the words with no apparent understanding. Director Ralph Flores has added a few symbolic flourishes, of course. When the butler walks across the room, for example, he lifts his legs high like a horse on parade; and when the father reaches out to put his hand on the shoulder of the young man who wants to marry his daughter, he lets it hover a few inches above the young man’s coat, never actually touching him. But the direction is mostly of the “stand there and say this” variety. Nowhere does Flores reveal a personal interpretation of the play.

I don’t know how to describe Once Five Years Pass. Identifying a plot would automatically ascribe more coherence to it than it has. Basically it involves a Young Man (David Barbee) who has decided not to marry his 15-year-old Fiancee (Michelle Adams) until five years pass. When he gets around to it she rebuffs him, donning an ugly burlap dress to discourage his attentions.

But the play is not really “about” anything. Each event merely serves as the starting point for a verbal riff by Garcia Lorca. When the Old Man (Thomas J. Carroll) hears the Young Man’s decision, for example, he says, “Fifteen years she’s lived, and they are what she is. Why not say fifteen snows, fifteen winds, fifteen sunsets! You don’t dare to run! To fly! To extend your love to the whole sky!”

Such heightened language can be effective in poetry, where images and metaphors are often compressed into an explosive mixture easily ignited by the imagination. But theater is a different form. An effective play generates dramatic tension, and Garcia Lorca subverts dramatic tension at every opportunity. This parade of images and symbols may be highly poetic, but they remain stubbornly undramatic.

Take, for example, the appearance of a Dead Boy (John Carlos Seda) and a Dead Cat (Laura Ceron). They discuss their fate in obscure terms. “I have a terrible pain in my heart,” the boy says, “because it doesn’t go. Yesterday it ran down and stopped, the nightingale of my pillow.” A Football Player (Frankie Davila) in a helmet and knee pads visits a young woman and repeatedly lights up a cigar and then smashes it under his foot. The Maid (Susana Aguilar) recalls, for no apparent reason, that she “had a fiance once who was a soldier. He crushed my rings against my fingers until they bled. That was why I left him!”

Once Five Years Pass is like a Salvador Dali painting come to life–not surprising, since Garcia Lorca and Dali were friends. Like the surrealist painter, the playwright seems to have striven for startling juxtapositions with little concern for creating a recognizable picture. With its undistinguished cast and apparently bewildered director, the Latino Chicago Theater Company fails even to make those juxtapositions very startling.

The production succeeds brilliantly in one thing: keeping Garcia Lorca’s images as obscure as possible, and therefore unrecognizable.