The cast of Marin Theatre Company’s Lydia includes, from left, Gloria Garayua as Ceci, Adriana Gavria as Lydia, David Pintado as Misha and Elias Escobedo as Alvaro. Photos by Ed Smith
Power, passion course through Solis’ startling `Lydia’
There’s a reason critics across the country have compared San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis’ Lydia to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Both are vivisections of distinctly American families. For Miller, the Lomans suffered mid-century secrets and pressures within their family unit. For Solis, the Flores family picks up some 20 years later in a different place and time with secrets and pressures both similar and distinctly their own.
Solis is such an exciting writer that the Miller comparison is not lightly made. Miller had American tales to tell, and so does Solis. With Lydia, Solis takes a leap with the kind of family drama so rich, so surprising that it redefines what you think family dramas can do. Just when you think you’ve seen every variation with, mom, pop, the kids, their troubles and a sofa in the middle of the set, along comes Solis to shake it up and think again.
Receiving its local premiere at Marin Theater Company in a production helmed by artistic director Jason Minadakis, Lydia is an evening that will linger in the memory for a long time.
Solis is unafraid to throw a whole lot into the mix here: sexuality, faith, violence, betrayal, romance, hope, death and poetry. It might be too much, but the only time you feel the weight of the playwright trying to balance too heavy a load is in Act 2 when the play seems to end multiple times before landing on a final scene that is bold, shocking and exactly what it needs to be.
You might say that Lydia is a riff on Mary Poppins – a caretaker arrives, shakes things up, inexorably alters the family then moves on. But then again, Ms. Poppins wasn’t dealing with immigration officers, a brain-damaged teenager, domestic violence or soul-damaging secrets.
The Flores family — short-order cook dad Claudio (Luis Saguar), mom Rosa (Wilma Bonet) returning to the workforce, high school student Misha (David Pintado), rebel older son Rene (Lakin Valdez) and severely injured daughter Ceci (Gloria Garayua above right) – is staking its claim on the American dream. Claudio and Rosa crossed the border from Mexico to create a life and a family in El Paso. That things didn’t turn out so great in the land of promise weighs heavily on Claudio, who works nights, sleeps days and spends most of his free time drinking beer and listening to his headphones from the Barcalounger.
The night two years before that Ceci was brain damaged in a car accident is one of the play’s motivating mysteries. It was just a few days before her quincenera, and whatever happened in the Pontiac only the people who were there know: Ceci, who is now unable to speak, her brother Rene and their cousin Alvaro (Elias Escobedo, below right with Garayua).
The play’s poetic soul belongs to Ceci, who rouses from her stupor to share her internal monologues with the audience. Even in her mostly vegetative state, she’s like the family sponge, absorbing all of their pain and unable to do anything about it. If asked, family members would say Ceci’s injury is the source of much of that pain, but in truth – and Ceci prefers the truth – that pain was already there.
When Rosa decides to go back to work, she hires a newly arrived Mexican immigrant to be the family maid and caretaker to Ceci. Lydia (Adriana Gaviria, above with Garayua) is sensitive the way Ceci is sensitive. The two young woman find a way to communicate beyond language, and soon Lydia begins unlocking those painful secrets and forcing the family out of its habitual denial.
Some of the play’s surprises aren’t all that surprising, but what connects in Solis’ play and in Minadakis’ production is the walloping emotion that pours from character to character. What could have been stock melodrama is instead invested with genuine feeling and lots of it. Garayua as Ceci is extraordinary, both as the vital, lovesick teenager who pours her heart out to us and as the twitching, moaning woman on the mattress in the middle of the living room floor (the slightly surreal ranch house set is by Robert Mark Morgan and lit with a fondness for moonlight by Kurt Landisman).
Pintado makes for a believable high schooler with a big crush on the new family maid, and Gaviria as Lydia is practically perfect in every way, which is to say she has an electric presence that convincingly leaves change in its wake.
The entire cast rises to the challenge of Solis’ outstanding script, which makes you rethink the term “family entertainment” as something as dark and dangerous as it is deeply felt.
Marin Theatre Company’s Lydia continues through April 12 at 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $20-$51. Call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org for information.