Synergy Theatre Company

Synergy Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Cristobal and Dona Rosita has all the makings of a magical, delightful show. Adapter and director James B. Lasko began with sumptuous tales of love and lust told by the acclaimed poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. He built complicated puppets, some of them looming so much larger than life that only their heads and hands are visible and others so small they don’t reach above the knee. He’s assembled a talented group of actors, musicians, designers, and builders. But working with all these concrete things, Lasko missed that one intangible that makes a theater buzz with excitement.

It’s not sex. It isn’t violence. It’s not even poetry. To some extent those are all onstage, yet The Marriage of Cristobal still doesn’t work. The thing that’s missing is dramatic tension. And without this–despite all its delightful visual elements–The Marriage of Cristobal remains mired in the mundane.

Creating dramatic tension is like trying to capture fireflies in a jar. They don’t glow all the time, and if you’re not looking you just might miss them. Fireflies light up all over the stage in The Marriage of Cristobal–but only for a second. Then they’re gone, and a potentially great moment of theater is lost because the ensemble either didn’t notice or didn’t do anything with them.

Lasko’s adaptation combines Lorca’s early puppet shows with a slew of his songs, some poetry, and some plays published after his death. Problem is, there are too many stories and too many ideas all running in different directions. The minute something interesting is about to happen and things get tense onstage, Lasko changes direction.

He’s based his story on an early Lorca character named Cristobal who’s in love with a beautiful woman named Rosita. Cristobal is fat, ugly, old, and stupid. Rosita is young and voluptuous and sings like a mourning dove. Cristobal wants to marry Rosita, but Rosita’s mother wants a lot of money for her daughter. Cristobal doesn’t have it, so he robs an invalid.

Cristobal seems an unsavory type. But Lasko introduces a “poet” who acts as the narrator of the tale and tries to defend Cristobal, saying he “could be good.” Nothing Cristobal does supports that contention, but there it stands. Rosita’s character is even less clear. At the beginning of the show she receives a rose from a suitor, who then leaves in a boat. She buries her glowing red papier-mache heart in the sand by a well, lies down, and mourns.

But then a number of other suitors come along and she gives her heart to each of them. It’s hard to say how many hearts this woman has and which might be the true one. As the action progresses, it gets even harder to say. The first suitor comes back from his boat trip and finds the other suitors mourning because Rosita is engaged to be married to Cristobal. On the morning of Rosita’s wedding, he enters her room while she’s dressing and they engage in some heavy foreplay. Then another suitor enters. Rosita hides the first and starts making out with the second. Then Cristobal enters and gets angry thinking that someone is with her.

This is a classic romantic-comedy situation, but it falls flat because there’s no tension. Ultimately someone will marry Rosita, but it doesn’t matter who because Rosita doesn’t seem to care. She’ll go with any man who comes along.

Maybe Lasko didn’t notice his story problems because he was too busy figuring out how to build and manipulate the puppets. Maybe he didn’t have time to get all his ideas under control. The Marriage of Cristobal and Dona Rosita is a complicated affair. Some elements–like the music, arranged and composed by Rob Bailiss–work very well to create a sense of Lorca’s sensual Andalusian world. Many of the puppets have delightful melancholy, serious, or stupid expressions. But without a good story and strong characters, even the best puppets are nothing more than cloth and paper.