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Theatre Review (LA): Lydia by Octavio Solis at the Mark Taper Forum

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Lydia by Octavio Solis is an intriguing new play being presented at the Mark Taper Forum. Originally workshopped and produced at the Denver Center Theatre, it is the story of a Mexican family in the 1970s in El Paso, Texas. The family has been torn apart by a tragic car accident that has left the youngest daughter Ceci (Onahoua Rodriguez) a near-vegetable for life. Besides Ceci, the family is made up of an angry, distant father who watches TV all day and works at night; two brothers — Misha, a serious, horny teen, and Alvaro, a wild gay-basher; a battered mother, Rosa, who tries to avoid any confrontation; and a newly arrived illegal immigrant, Lydia, the maid.

The play is largely a melodrama like one might see on Spanish TV, but with mystical overtones. Lydia seems to see through everyone and can understand what Ceci is trying to say. Her power seems almost magical. Solis’ style as a writer seems to have been influenced by Lorca, whose work is often about violence and dysfunctional families. The drama is taut and engaging, thanks to crisp direction by Juliette Carrillo.

The cast is terrific. Alvaro is scary as played by Max Arcineiga. Stephanie Beatriz is a steadfast and frightened Rosa. Carlo Alban as Misha conveys the angst of a teen trying to cope with his burgeoning sexuality and manhood. Tony Sancho plays the families’ cousin back from Vietnam with secrets of his own. Onahoua Rodriguez gives a sensitive and brave performance as Ceci. jumping in and out of her poetic inner speeches and outer incoherent speech. Her rather singsong delivery, however, sometimes interferes with her meaning. Stephanie Beatriz is very powerful as the maid with super-cognition. She is funny as well as empathetic towards the other characters, with whom she brooks no lies.

One false note, though, is the final sequence between Ceci and her brother Misha. Perhaps Solis was trying to shock, or find an unpredictable ending, but I felt it went over the edge and took me out of the play. Still, the piece is powerful and highly recommended. Lydia plays at the Mark Taper Forum until May 17.

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