Ceci Flores ( Onahoua Rodriguez) is by accounts a high functioning vegetable. The victim of a head injury following a car crash, she is now a fifteen-year-old quadriplegic left with moans and grunts as her only means of possible and often ineffective communication. However, she does speak. In spontaneous moments where the play breaks free of reality, we are inside Ceci's head, where she can talk and dance. She expresses herself candidly, poetically and we have a clear picture of the teenaged girl trapped in the silence of a body that can't bridge the divide between her mind and her severe injuries.
Her mother Rosa ( Catalina Maynard), finally overwhelmed by Ceci’s need for constant care, household chores and her own job, has hired a maid to help with the house and Ceci. Misha ( Carlo Alban), the youngest son who ditched football in favor of writing poetry about birds, does not like the idea of a maid, thinking no one outside of the family would never take care of Ceci well enough. Oldest son Rene ( Tony Sancho) has finally come home from another drunken night out where he continues a tradition begun with his buddy Alvaro ( Max Arciniega) of barhopping and gay-bashing. He doesn’t really care about the maid. Father Claudio ( Daniel Zacapa) does not speak about it. He never surfaces from his earphones, his beer and his record player which he listens to while watching TV. Claudio is the portrait of disdain for everything and everyone, including his family. All, that is, except Ceci.
Enter Lydia ( Stephanie Beatriz), an exuberate, no-nonsense young girl who cooks, cleans, confronts and can communicate with Ceci, with an ease that no one else in the family possesses. Lydia meets each family member’s deficiencies with candor and humor, serving as a muse to each of the family member’s varied woes. In some ways, she seems to have filled the void left by Ceci now that she is in her permanent handicapped state.
Whether it is instinct or innate nosiness, she immediately attacked the question of how Ceci got hurt. It is now that we learn that everyone knows what happened, a terrible car crash. But no one seems to know why. Why did she and Rene sneak out three days before her Quinceañera and what caused the crash itself. Rene isn't talking and Ceci can't. Or rather, no one could understand Ceci, until now.
Conceptually, this production is good. Stylistically the choices are fresh and well executed. Both the Sound Design and the Lighting Design were acutely subtle and very effective. Lydia is more than a story of family dysfunction. The play attempts to shine a light on the person, the lucid mind, trapped within the shell of a physical body that happens to be malfunctioning. It explores in depth the themes of regret and guilt and unrealized dreams.
This production is constructed of two very long acts. Lydia makes a point to address and complete the character arc over all its characters which I think is a mistake. The play attempts to service all characters with a beginning, a middle and an end; ironically leaving most of them in the exact same place where we first met them. The lack of precision in its focus results in the play meandering to its conclusion.
There was so much story, so much acting, so much tragedy. It was a bit too much. The “what” of the climax is revealed in the first act, so only the how remain to be seen. The bread crumbs that will lead back to the inevitable conclusion are thunderously obvious. Onahoua Rodriguez does a great job, traversing from the blissful grace of internal monologue to fitful, broken, inarticulate Ceci, but the more we see the device, the less special it becomes.
For me, the pain was not worth taking the journey with these characters, particularly since we are left without any real glimmer of hope for any of them. I feel that if you are going to put these characters through such trials, and ask an audience to come along for the journey, at least have them come out different, changed, on the other side. Otherwise, it’s all an exercise in pain; what can we learn from that? Perhaps if the anguish of just a pair of the characters were more intimate, more focused and more personal, then perhaps the journey would have been more impactful, or at least more satisfying.
The Center Theatre Group's production of Lydia runs now through May 17, 2009 at:
Mark Taper Forum
135 N Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(in downtown Los Angeles at the Music Center)
Tuesdays- Fridays @ 8pm
Saturdays @ 2:30 & 8pm
Sundays 1pm & 6pm
Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz