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Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
She touched me and I flew—Ceci
Onahoua Rodriguez and Carlo Alban as Ceci and Misha.
Photo: Craig Schwartz
Our scene is a house, working class, with cheap furniture, a well used recliner for the patriarch, a matress in the middle of the living room for the family invalid (more on her presently), 70s shag carpet and the stench of cheap beer, despair and secrecy. Set designer Christopher Acebo has left the roof transparent. In the course of events of Octavio Solis's Lydia, it will, figuratively speaking, come crashing down on the Flores family. The house of Atreus has got nothing on these ruined, Vietnam era El Paso-ans.

Solis would suggest that his play, now at the Mark Taper Forum, is finally about a kind of redemption, and, yes, he'd be correct. Ceci, the brain-damaged Flores daughter whose inner being ignites this family's hopes and misery, does get her release at play's end. That said, release is as excruciating to behold as it is powerful, a testament to the mixed bag of a play that Solis (Man of the Flesh, La Posada Magica) has written. Ceci goes through a lot, and she drags us across the coals right along with her. It's also a testament to director Juliette Carrillo and a brave cast, many of whom are now on their third go-round with Lydia after productions at the Denver Center and Yale Repertory Theatre. Onahoua Rodriguez, playing Ceci, probably deserves combat pay for burrowing so deeply into this wrecked soul's life night after night.

Ceci is two characters. First there is the moaning wordless, convulsing woman-child whose accident on the eve of her quinceanera left her all but a vegetable. Throughout Lydia, however, Ceci's spirit breaks free of her body to narrate and express the still human urges that her character experiences. When Rodriguez speaks, with a child-like air of humor and appetites, we see the character's inner self.

A few members of her dysfunctional family "get" her enough to know when to feed her or change a diaper. Devoted to Ceci though they are, the Flores have their own problems. Father Claudio (Daniel Zacapa), a not-quite-legal immigrant who works a late shift, is disgusted with his life, and is barely tolerant of his family. One son, Rene (Tony Sancho)is a hell raiser and another, Misha (Carlo Alban), is still in school and too sensitive for his father's liking. Mom Rosa (Catalina Maynard), after too much time caring for Ceci, is about ready to leave the house and go back to work. So she hires a nanny. That would be Lydia (Stephanie Beatriz) who comes from Jalisco, with few references. She hopes to learn better English and tells it like it is, even when doing so is dangerous. The bond between Lydia and Ceci is immediate with the Nanny seeming to know exactly what her charge needs. Completing the family unit are Rosa and Claudio's nephew Alvaro (Max Arciniega), a former crush of Ceci's who now works as a border guard.

Connections, affairs and liaisons abound and as the hidden becomes revealed, wounds are ripped open and freshly salted. Lydia, a sort of guardian angel for Ceci, is an agent of mayhem for everyone else. In a border city like El Paso, where people are worried about being sent to Vietnam or deported, mere everyday survival is no easy thing. Zacapa's often silent rage (the character frequently tunes out the world with headphones) and Sancho's young buck bluster contrast smartly with Alban's sweet sensitivity. Beatriz's Lydia, meanwhile, is appropriately enigmatic, a character whose motives and actions, except where Ceci is concerned, are occasionally suspect. When matters boil over, as they eventually must, various Flores family members display deeper shadings. Their pain is explained; Lydia's not so much. Even by the play's finale, we don't necessarily know where she came form or where she's bound.

The play's final scene, fittingly, is between a now desperate Ceci and the one person best equipped — physically and psychologically — to help her. It's a squirmer on a couple of different levels even if it leaves us with a much needed sense of completion. Solis leaves Ceci wordless, her inner being quieted at last, but by now we in the audience understand. Like the rest of the Flores family, we too have learned from Lydia.

By Octavio Soliz
Directed by Juliette Carrillo
Cast: Carlo Alban (Mischa), Max Arciniega (Alvaro), Stephanie Beattriz (Lydia), Catalina Maynard (Rosa), Onahoua Rodriguez (Ceci), Tony Sancho (Rene), Daniel Zacapa (Claudio).
Stage Manager:
Set Design: Christopher Acebo
Costume Design: Christal Weatherly
Lighting Design Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: David Molina
Stage Manager: Michelle Blair
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 628-2772,
From April 2 to May 17
Tue-Sat. @ 8pm, Sat. @2:30 pm., Sun @ 1 pm and 6:30 pm.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on April 15 performance.

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