Dona Rosita: While She Waits

English version by John Olon. Directed by Mr. Olon. In visual terms, the new production at the Chelsea Theater Center is a work of exceptional grace and beauty. Using movable white fabric screens -- opaque enough for registering delicate projections -- Wolgang Roth has created a design scheme that is both lyrical and architecturally formal. Holly Lei Cole's period costumes enhance the picturesqueness which mainly distinguishes "Dona Rosita: while she waits."

Federico Garcia Lorca subtitled the story of unrequited love, "The Language of Flowers," which sounds misleading. Yet the pathos and mounting emotional intensity of the drama are balanced by passages of appealing gaiety and even of broad comedy. The new English version by John Olon contains (presumably translating Lorca) the further description: "a grenadine poem of the nineteen hundreds divided into various gardens with scenes of song and dance." The floral imagery gives the play its central theme, recurring motifs, metaphors, colors, and essence.

The young Spanish girl of the title sysmbolically personifies the rare blossom cultivated by her horticulturist-uncle: it blooms a vivid red, pales as it wilts, and turns white in death -- all in a single day. Dona Rosita's day, however lasts from 1885, when she accepts her cousin's marriage proposal, until 1910, when she and her widowed aunt prepare to move to a house befitting their reduced circumstances. Meanwhile, Rosita's fiance has gone to South America, where he ultimately marries another while maintaining a pretense of faithfulness in letters to the girl he left behind.

In his title for this compassionate drama, Lorca used the words "solitera" ("spinster"). The play's central concern, therefore, is the plight of a young woman who not only comes rto realize she has been betrayed bout who is locked into her position by the conventions of a rigidly restrictive society. Rosita at one point confesses to her own role in the illusion by admitting that she has known for years of her lover's faithlessness. But in its lighter moods, "Dona Rosita" touches on comic matters.

Such a stylized period import as "Dona Rosita" presents formidable challenges to American actors. The Chelsea Theater Center production is marred by stretches of broad overplaying for which translator-director Olon is presumably responsible. On the positive side, Annette Hunt (Rosita) grows increasingly confident and persuasive as she moves into the more desperate stages of the heroine's hopeless plight.

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