OPEN STAGES ONLINE: Life of Lorca, Part 5

by Walter Bilderback, Production Dramaturg

Mural of Lorca on 120 Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

Lorca’s Death

In the years after Blood Wedding premiered, Lorca finished two more plays set in rural Andalusia: Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. While both have elements of stylization, neither has characters like the Moon or the Beggar in Blood Wedding.

While this was happening, Spain itself moved closer to catastrophe. The Republican government was voted out in 1933. In advance of the 1936 elections, all segments of liberals and the left came together in the Popular Front. Lorca had been apolitical, but became more committed to progressive causes after 1933. He spoke at public gatherings and wrote group statements for publication. He also began work on a political play, The Dream of Life, which one friend described as “situating us in a new theatrical world, where the boundaries between stage, audience, and street are broken down.” The play, unfortunately, was never finished.

In February of 1936, the Republicans and their allies won an electoral victory that resulted in a two-thirds majority in parliament. The defeated forces of the right immediately rallied behind the fascist Falange party of the former dictator Primo de Rivera. The Falange mounted a series of disruptions and assassinations that soon resulted in de Rivera’s arrest and a State of Emergency being declared. Throughout the spring and early summer tensions heightened, with assassinations by both sides, until a group of conservative generals, led by Francisco Franco, staged a coup on July 17-18. The Spanish Civil War had begun.

Lorca’s parents had left Madrid for their home in Granada. Lorca now followed them. Unfortunately, Granada was a Falangist stronghold, one of the few in southern Spain at the time. Lorca’s brother-in-law, a local Republican official, was arrested and executed shortly afterward. Lorca learned he was being hunted and hid in the house of a childhood friend, ironically the son of a Falangist official. He stayed there until he was arrested by militia on August 16.

On the night on August 18, 1936, Lorca was murdered by his captors. His gravesite has never been found. The Falangists first denied his death, then claimed it was the action of a few rogue officers, claims that have been disproved.

Many of Lorca’s friends had urged him to flee Spain as the Civil War grew more imminent. He could easily have gone to Mexico, but stayed (in several biographers’ opinion) to remain close to Rodrigo Rodriguez Rapun, the last great love of his life, whom Lorca met in his time leading the touring Barraca theater troupe during the Republic. Coincidentally, Rapun died on the first anniversary of Lorca’s death, in combat against the fascists.

The Spanish Civil War continued until March 1939. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union all used the war to test weaponry and tactics – a rehearsal for the Second World War. Other volunteers, including George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway, came as well: most to support the Republicans, some to support the Fascists. More than 600,000 people died in that, time, including at least 30,000 Republicans executed after the end of the war. Close to one-half million more fled the country. Democracy did not return to Spain until after Franco’s death in 1975.

OPEN STAGES ONLINE: Life of Lorca, Part 4

by Walter Bilderback, Production Dramaturg

Top: The production of ‘Blood Wedding’, directed by Anthony Clark, at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, 1987; the wedding guests. Bottom: The Company of ‘Blood Wedding’ at The Wilma theater. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Blood Wedding

During a break in the schedule of the touring company La Barraca, Lorca began work on Blood Wedding, which would become his first real theatrical success. Leslie Stainton describes the play as essentially “a long poem, in which passages of verse and prose combine to produce a lyrical portrait of Spain and its people.”

“To readers of Gypsy Ballads and Poem of the Deep Song [two earlier books of poetry by Lorca], this was familiar ground. Blood Wedding re-creates the archetypal Spain of those collections—a region steeped in passion and blood, in popular Andalusian imagery and song, a world where nature reigns. . . . Nature itself is a protagonist, most provocatively in the forest scene, where the Moon—a ‘young woodcutter with a white face’—appears, seeking blood to warm his icy flesh. Characters throughout the play recall the cycles of nature: the planting and harvesting of crops, the earth’s rotation from day to night, and from birth to death. Had his most distant childhood memories not borne the ‘flavor of the earth,’ Lorca reflected, ‘I could not have written Blood Wedding.’ The play allowed him to capture the details of the Andalusian countryside ‘with the same spirit I felt in my boyhood years.’”

Lorca’s experience with La Barraca affected his involvement with the premiere of the play. Although Eduardo Marquina was officially the director, by all accounts the playwright ran the rehearsals. He had developed a directorial style of his own. According to Stainton, “He brought to the task a painter’s sense of composition and a musician’s understanding of timing. Rhythm—the tempo of the performance—was crucial.” (Csaba Horvath’s direction of the Wilma’s production of Blood Wedding is entirely faithful to Lorca’s spirit in these regards.)

Lorca’s brother later said that the playwright attended every rehearsal and essentially functioned as the director.  The actor playing the Groom recounted that “no play in the Spanish theater has ever been rehearsed so thoroughly.”

Blood Wedding opened on March 8, 1933. During the “Awaken the Bride” sequence in the play’s second act, the audience stopped the performance with applause and demands that Lorca come onstage to take a bow. He was called up onstage at the end of each act. The reviews were, with few exceptions, raves. “I feel calm and content, because I’ve had the first great triumph of my life,” Lorca told a friend.

OPEN STAGES ONLINE: Life of Lorca, Part 3

by Walter Bilderback, Production Dramaturg

New York and the New World

As the twenties went on, Lorca’s prominence as a poet increased, especially with the publication of his Gypsy Ballads in 1928. In 1929, Lorca went to New York City for a year, studying and lecturing at Columbia University as well as absorbing the art and culture of the Harlem Renaissance, an experience he documented in his book of poems A Poet in New York (published posthumously).  During his stay in New York, biographer Leslie Stainton writes, Lorca discovered he “was a poet of the land, not of steel girders and asphalt streets, and the longer he remained in New York, the more he understood this.” From that point, his writing focused on the rural life of Andalusia, particularly Granada. Before returning to Spain, he also spent time in Havana and in Buenos Aires, where he found a second artistic home for his plays.

Spain in upheaval

Lorca returned to a Spain on verge of huge changes. In 1931, national elections put a Republican government in power, replacing the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera that had lasted nearly a decade. Among the new government’s goals was reducing illiteracy in the rural provinces. A group of Madrid college students created La Barraca, a traveling theater company dedicated to the plays of Spain’s Golden Age – plays written by writers such as Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, and Cervantes. The company hired Lorca as its director. With La Barraca, Lorca found a renewed passion for theater, directing and designing productions, as well as sometimes acting himself.

Co-director Eduardo Ugarte and Lorca, in their Barraca uniforms, during a tour with the company, 1932.

 

La Barraca and Blood Wedding

In his book Lorca: Living in the Theatre, author Gwynne Edwards suggests that Lorca’s activities with La Barraca had a considerable effect on the subject matter and the style of his own writing. Although music was used selectively in his earlier work, nowhere was it employed more extensively than in Blood Wedding, and this clearly owed something to Lorca’s work with La Barraca.

Blood Wedding also seems, in many ways, a continuation of the great tradition of seventeenth-century Spanish drama, both in its tragic structure founded upon fate and impossible demands of personal “honor,” and in characters such as The Moon and The Beggar. One of Lorca’s major productions with La Barraca was Calderon’s mystery play Life is a Dream, in which he played the role of The Shadow, an eerie personification of one of Lorca’s constant obsessions, death. (By luck, a few moments of his performance has survived on film from the period, which can be seen at the tail end of the above YouTube video.)

 

Blood Wedding ends it run at The Wilma Theater on November 19. See this riveting production and get your ticket today at WilmaTheater.org/BloodWedding.