Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The play begins with two lovers, Julio Gonzales and Julia Ramirez, as an elderly couple, bickering good naturedly over whose memory of their first meeting can most be trusted. They begin to tell the story and we go back with them to their youth, when Julio, a bike messenger and composer of love songs, spies Julia beneath a cherry blossom tree in the park and is immediately enamored with her. They are two innocents, caught up in the heat of first love. When Julia's father Agustin learns that his daughter is enamored with a mere bike messenger, he tries his best to put a stop to their romance, even belittling his surname, Gonzales, as low class. He wants his daughter, whom he raised as a widower, to have a more accomplished mate and affluent lifestyle. Finally, he moves Julia away from their city, and they take up residence at a sea-side spa where she is under the care of Dr. Miguel Reyesa surname that means "of kings or royalty."
Back in the city, Julio grieves the disappearance of his beloved, continuing to write songs of love and receive comfort from his widowed mother Clemencia. She assures Julio that if their love is true, Julia will return, and that in the meantime, he should prepare by bettering his own station in life. Without giving away the course of their love, what can be said is that both Julio and Julia live their lives apart, in ways that twist together their own choices, the intersession of their respective parents, and the winds of chance. What we know from the start is that ,for all the detours and missed opportunities, in the end they will be back together, arm in arm.
The play passes through long stretches of bitterness to arrive at its sweet conclusion. The dialogue has a formalized tone that gives the feeling of being told a story, rather than of seeing an actual scene from life acted out, which makes it difficult to be emotionally touched by the plight of the young lovers. What does come across is that our lives pass in unpredictable ways: what we believe will make us happy may not; the things we do to prepare for happiness may weigh us down; and the things we struggle to let go of may return in the end.
There are also many references to the writings of D.H. Lawrence, who, as fate would have it, is a favorite author of Julio, Julia, and Miguel. Lawrence wrote often about the varieties of love, and the virtue in each. The three characters in this play seem to draw their understanding of love from Lawrence's romantic notions, rather than from examining their own hearts.
The cast of five actors are all appealing, and each gives his or her character a specific attitude. Mariana Fernández uses restraint and veiled emotions that make Julia seem at a remove from her desires, and leave her vulnerable to the harshness of the world. However, she does not project the kind of charisma one might expect of a woman who has two men in her thrall. As Julio, Israel López Reyes creates quite the opposite impression, with his heart on his sleeve and his mouth unable to keep his feelings from tumbling out. He is a dreamer, and even when he is caught up in ambition, his only happiness is found in his dreams. Both actors are beautiful to the eye, but do not have the chemistry together that makes the love they carry within over decades feel like anything more than a smothered crush.
Sasha Andreev provides the right degree of certitude for Miguel Reyes, the doctor who loses his bearings when meeting Julia. Raúl Ramos, as Julia's father Agustin, does an excellent job depicting a man who believes he is doing the right thing, but whose arrogance and narrow values keep him from seeing the truth right before him. Best of all is Lisa Suarez as Julio's mother Clemencia. Her performance draws on the deepest well of emotions, as she tries to comfort and advise her inconsolable son, and as she reminisces about the love and betrayal she has known. To a large degree, hers is the character that best demonstrates what love looks, feels and acts like.
José Zayas directs the piece with a clear flow between settings and time frames, especially important as the play stretches over several decades, with leaps in time from one scene to the next. The spare, simple set adds to the feeling of a fable, rather than real lives, on stage. This sense is embellished by deeply romantic music used as an underscore or during transitions. Costume, sound and light design all contribute to a physically elegant production.
Supertitles above the playing area provide English translation when Spanish is spoken, and Spanish translation when English is spoken. The only time Spanish is spoken on stage is when Julio or Julia are speaking to their parent. When they speak together, and when either Julia or her father speak to Dr. Reyes, English is used. Perhaps this is meant to reflect that their parents are transmitting traditional values and beliefs, therefore using the language of their birth. However, in a scene where Julia and Clemencia encounter one another in a parkeither having met before, and knowing how they are linked by Julioand Clemencia, now quite elderly, offers sage advice to the unhappy younger woman, they speak in English; I would have expected this transmission from one generation to another to be another occasion for using Spanish. In any case, the supertitles are easy to read, and should not keep anyone from following the dialogue.
Corazón Eterno is a lovely stage work, but one that lacks an emotional charge. This is curious, considering its name, which suggests a deeply emotional outing. As always, Mixed Blood has put well-hewn work on its stage, but this time out the work lacks the heat to warm the hearts of its audience.
Corazón Eterno continues at the Mixed Blood Theatre through February 25, 2017, at 1501 S. Fourth Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $25 for tickets purchased in advance. Access Passes guarantee complimentary seating and transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities, and their companions. Radical Hospitality tickets are free at the door 30 minutes prior to performances. For advance tickets and Access Pass information call 612-338-6331 or go to www.mixedblood.com.
Writer: Caridad Svich; Directed by: José Zayas; Set Design and Properties: Abbee Warmboe; Costume Design: Amber Brown; Lighting Design: Paul Epton; Sound Design: C. Andrew Mayer; Technical Director: Evan Sima; Stage Manager: Amy Abrigo
Cast: Sasha Andreev (Miguel Ryes), Mariana Fernández (Julia), Raúl Ramos (Agustin Ramirez), Israel López Reyes (Julio Gonzalez), Lisa Suarez (Clemencia).