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Theater Review: House of Pain Poetically Constructed in ‘Lydia’:

As soon as the first words of dialogue are uttered in Octavio Solis’ play, Lydia, it’s clear that a masterful playwright has penned this multi-layered tragedy. Deftly directed by Juliette Carrillo, the play is a heart-wrenching emotional journey through the broken world of a Mexican American family living in El Paso, Texas, in the 1970s. Deep emotional daggers rupture the family’s collective heart when the vibrant teenager and only daughter, Ceci (a heartbreakingly girlish and sometimes incapacitated Onahoua Rodriguez), is wounded almost beyond recognition in a car accident. Behind the wheel during said car-wreck is Rene (an anger-driven, machismo Tony Sancho), Ceci’s older, rebellious brother, who can’t seem to forgive himself for reducing his sister to a near-vegetative state. Since the accident, Ceci has been curled on a mattress on the family’s living room floor, arms and limbs twisted like barbed wire gone awry, grunting and groaning her way through long, depressing days. Her parents, Claudio (Daniel Zacapa) and Rosa (Catalina Maynard) don’t do much better on the communication front than Ceci; dad constantly dons noise-drowning headphones as he slugs beer in front of the television set, while mom does her best to tend to her broken daughter. Also in the mix is Misha (Carlo Alban), the youngest child, a sensitive intellectual who got none of his older brother’s brawn. Enter Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz), a carefree, unabashed woman hired by Rosa to help out around the house and tend to the infantile needs of the damaged family member dominating center stage. Soon, Lydia and Ceci begin to bond and it becomes clear that the maid with a heart-of-gold can communicate with Ceci in an almost telepathic way. Though everyone loves Lydia at first, her presence in this gloomy home disrupts the family dynamic and creates sexual tension amongst the men. There’ll be no spoiler here – you’ll have to see the show to witness the many libidos that get unleashed in sometimes unsettling ways. Secrets and lies come seeping through the cracks in the family’s shaky foundation with Lydia’s arrival, and things start to spiral out of control. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the play is the magical realism that Solis uses to allow Ceci to talk to the audience, even though she can’t talk to anyone in the world of the play, save her psychic connection with Lydia. We get to inhabit the inside of a maimed teenager, hear her hopes and dreams, and mourn for her terrible loss of lifeblood. Though the writing is stunning and the ensemble cast cohesive and strong, the story begins to get lost in the second act. Tragedy gets heaped upon tragedy until it all becomes, well, almost like comedy. The story gets mired in sentimental exchanges and way too much self-realization from characters who become aware of their shortcomings in such an abrupt fashion we wonder if they are, in fact, the same fragile souls we met at the outset. Yes, characters are supposed to change in drama, but when they become unrecognizable, things get problematic. The set is stunning and, though the story falters, there is a lot to love about the playwright’s knack for musicality in speech and adeptness with the English language. The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center of Los Angeles County, 135 N. Grand Avenue, in downtown L.A. Lydia runs through May 17. For tickets and more information, call (213)628-2772 or visit www.centertheatregroup.org.

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