Play about dramatist Lorca in US debut

The Death of Garc'ia Lorca Play by Jose Antonio Ri'al, translated by Julio Marz'an. Directed by Carlos Gimenez. The New York Shakespeare Festival has launched its Festival Latino 1988 with the North American premi`ere of ``The Death of Garc'ia Lorca,'' by Jose Antonio Ri'al, the Spanish-born writer and editor long resident in Venezuela. This first English-language production of the work was staged by Carlos Gimenez, founder-director of Venezuela's Fundacion Rajatabla theater company. It features an international cast of Latin and American actors.

``The Death of Garc'ia Lorca'' comes somewhat uncertainly to life on the stage of the Public/Anspacher Theater. The time of the action is 1936. The long, complicated, and densely allusive work assembles a collage of events and relationships as it focuses on events leading to the murder of the Spanish poet-dramatist best known for such plays as ``Blood Wedding,'' ``Yerma'', and ``The House of Bernarda Alba.''

Beginning with a farewell Madrid gathering of Lorca and a pride of fellow poet-artists, the play moves quickly to Granada for its decisive developments. In a profusion of realistic and surreal scenes, Lorca confronts and comes fatalistically to accept his imminent execution by the fascists for being a poet and a homosexual.

Lorca's ordeal involves both his own family and that of his longtime friend Luis Rosales, in whose home he takes refuge, having abandoned any hope of escape. As events unfold and police harassment grows more menacing, Mr. Ri'al explores the state of family and personal ties as well as the contradictions inherent in divided loyalties. As Lorca envisions his arrest and murder, he exclaims: ``No death can be as bad as the one I'm suffering now.'' After a brief incarceration, the poet and three fellow prisoners are led off to be shot.

Playgoers less than familiar with the Spanish Civil War and its complex of conflicting ideologies may find ``The Death of Garc'ia Lorca'' heavy going. At the personal level, Mr. Ri'al presents Lorca as an apolitical victim of Falangist police-state terror, recoiling instinctively against the poisonous hatred of the time, rather than as a world acclaimed literary figure. In his New York stage debut, Bernard White achieves a surface impression of the poet, but Mr. White's tendency to lapse into shrill delivery weakens his portrayal.

The Julio Marz'an translation receives a generally responsive performance from the large Shakespeare Festival cast. Principals include Patricia Falkenhain (Lorca's mother), Maria Cristina Lozada (his sister), Cesar Evora (Luis Rosales), and Al Rodriquez (Miguel Rosales). Scenery and costume designer Rafael Reyeros's settings, lighted by Mr. Gimenez, meet the sometimes gimmicky demands of a theater piece that ranges from realism to fantasy. Visual and musical images - statues of children, childhood songs, instrumental counterpoints - all contribute to the symbolism and atmosphere of this ambitious inter-American collaboration.

``The Death of Garc'ia Lorca'' is scheduled to run through July 10 (with simultaneous Spanish translations at some performances) as part of the First New York International Festival of the Arts.

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