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Starkly real to poetically hallucinatory

Lydia at Ion Theatre BLKBOX

Jennifer Paredes (lying down) and Sandra Ruiz
Jennifer Paredes (lying down) and Sandra Ruiz

Two mysteries drive Octavio Solis’ family drama. The first: what caused the Floreses to implode? We know that three days before Ceci’s quinceañera (15th birthday, coming of age) she was in an auto accident. Now she lies on a mattress in a “vegetative state.” A scar, “stitched like a baseball,” runs from her right eyebrow down to her lower jaw. But what led to the crash?

Lydia

The second mystery: who is Lydia? She crosses the border to El Paso in the early '70s as if from the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. She’s an instinctive curandera (healer) from Jailisco — or maybe the nearby mountains? She went straight to the Floreses as if by divine command. She can interpret Ceci’s grunts and growls and, apparently, can read minds. She knows everything except the “why” of the first mystery.

So, Lydia’s a Latina Mary Poppins? Sure, if you overlook sexual healing, suggestions that she’s death itself, or that a family member calls her “a low-class Mexican whore.” Also: Ion Theatre concludes its production with Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.”

Lydia premiered in 2008, not long after Tracey Letts’s August: Osage County opened on Broadway. The two have much in common: families in deep denial smothered by secrets — though everyone knows, or at least suspects, the “why.” But to admit it might shatter the few strands still binding them together. Compounding problems: cousin Alvaro, Vietnam vet (Bronze Star), just joined the Border Patrol; Lydia is undocumented.

The family has boundaries. Why, for example, does macho Rene get drunk and go gay-bashing? (Comes home with a black eye, says, “You should see them!”) Why does his father, Claudio, get drunk and watch The Brady Bunch on TV while wearing earphones? And becomes enraged when son Misha quits football to become a poet.

The playwright grew up in El Paso (and could be Misha, named for Mikhail Baryshnikov). His canvas shifts from starkly real to poetically hallucinatory. There are times when the poetry — often beautiful, sometimes just “watch me” showy — verges on excessive. Some scenes are overwritten and beg for a trim.

The writing can frustrate because the story, minus the trappings, is a gripper. These people are hurt: Lorca-hurt. And their fates matter.

Alexander Guzman and Jennifer Paredes

For Ion Theatre, director Claudio Raygoza does an admirable job of holding the piece together — in the small Ion space. There are lulls and flights of too much fancy, but Raygoza honors the material with a solid ensemble cast.

Jennifer Paredes gives Ceci an impressive physicality (she moves backward faster than the others move forward) and an aching heart. Nadia Guevara’s Lydia captivates (is she a “muse” or just locada?). Sandra Ruiz, as Rosa, energizes the stage with crisp timing and intensity. The male roles are less well written, but John Anthony Delgado (Claudio), Alexander Guzman (Alvaro), Richard Johnson (Rene), and Bernardo Mazon (Misha) all perform ably.

Kevin Kornberger’s expert lighting adds expressive rinses to every scene. Shafts and hues often erect boundaries and then, like care-giving Lydia, demolish them.

Playing through July 2

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Jennifer Paredes (lying down) and Sandra Ruiz
Jennifer Paredes (lying down) and Sandra Ruiz

Two mysteries drive Octavio Solis’ family drama. The first: what caused the Floreses to implode? We know that three days before Ceci’s quinceañera (15th birthday, coming of age) she was in an auto accident. Now she lies on a mattress in a “vegetative state.” A scar, “stitched like a baseball,” runs from her right eyebrow down to her lower jaw. But what led to the crash?

Lydia

The second mystery: who is Lydia? She crosses the border to El Paso in the early '70s as if from the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. She’s an instinctive curandera (healer) from Jailisco — or maybe the nearby mountains? She went straight to the Floreses as if by divine command. She can interpret Ceci’s grunts and growls and, apparently, can read minds. She knows everything except the “why” of the first mystery.

So, Lydia’s a Latina Mary Poppins? Sure, if you overlook sexual healing, suggestions that she’s death itself, or that a family member calls her “a low-class Mexican whore.” Also: Ion Theatre concludes its production with Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.”

Lydia premiered in 2008, not long after Tracey Letts’s August: Osage County opened on Broadway. The two have much in common: families in deep denial smothered by secrets — though everyone knows, or at least suspects, the “why.” But to admit it might shatter the few strands still binding them together. Compounding problems: cousin Alvaro, Vietnam vet (Bronze Star), just joined the Border Patrol; Lydia is undocumented.

The family has boundaries. Why, for example, does macho Rene get drunk and go gay-bashing? (Comes home with a black eye, says, “You should see them!”) Why does his father, Claudio, get drunk and watch The Brady Bunch on TV while wearing earphones? And becomes enraged when son Misha quits football to become a poet.

The playwright grew up in El Paso (and could be Misha, named for Mikhail Baryshnikov). His canvas shifts from starkly real to poetically hallucinatory. There are times when the poetry — often beautiful, sometimes just “watch me” showy — verges on excessive. Some scenes are overwritten and beg for a trim.

The writing can frustrate because the story, minus the trappings, is a gripper. These people are hurt: Lorca-hurt. And their fates matter.

Alexander Guzman and Jennifer Paredes

For Ion Theatre, director Claudio Raygoza does an admirable job of holding the piece together — in the small Ion space. There are lulls and flights of too much fancy, but Raygoza honors the material with a solid ensemble cast.

Jennifer Paredes gives Ceci an impressive physicality (she moves backward faster than the others move forward) and an aching heart. Nadia Guevara’s Lydia captivates (is she a “muse” or just locada?). Sandra Ruiz, as Rosa, energizes the stage with crisp timing and intensity. The male roles are less well written, but John Anthony Delgado (Claudio), Alexander Guzman (Alvaro), Richard Johnson (Rene), and Bernardo Mazon (Misha) all perform ably.

Kevin Kornberger’s expert lighting adds expressive rinses to every scene. Shafts and hues often erect boundaries and then, like care-giving Lydia, demolish them.

Playing through July 2

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