‘There’s Blood at the Wedding’: A Classic Drama, Intertwined With the Tragedies of Today

Posted May 21, 2018 10:23 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Rage runs throughout “There’s Blood at the Wedding,” and it’s an anger that both energizes and overwhelms this hourlong mixed-media show.

Theodora Skipitares, the creator and director, has made a specialty of intertwining classic works with contemporary issues — generally speaking, she’ll stage a scene from a well-known drama, then follow that scene with a real-life story. Her “Traveling Players Present the Women of Troy” combined a Greek tragedy with testimonies of abused African and Afghan women, while her “Prometheus Within” alternated that myth with accounts of modern scientific exploration. They are wondrous pieces.

Here she offers Federico García Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” alongside the stories of Eric Garner, Sean Bell and others killed by the police. It’s a bold move, though too often Lorca’s play seems shoehorned into making a point rather than supporting an idea: The parallels are less persuasive than in previous shows, and audience members unfamiliar with Lorca’s plot might get lost.

Also vexing is the less-prominent use of puppets, which were more strikingly employed in past productions. In a program note, Skipitares writes of “searching for new and unfamiliar forms of storytelling.” But the devices she adds this time, like giant books that unfold to illustrate a victim’s life, don’t create the haunting images that arise from her astonishing puppetry.

Still, even as the piece puts message before stagecraft, its best segments stir emotions, particularly when the script uses the words of those who knew the dead. “My son loved this city and this city killed my son,” the script quotes Valerie Castile as saying; she is the mother of Philando Castile, who was shot outside St. Paul, Minnesota. “We’re not evolving as a civilization, we’re devolving.”

Sxip Shirey, Skipitares’ collaborator, supplies eerie sounds and powerful songs as the composer and lyricist for the live musical sections. Alexa Jordan and Eric Lawrence Taylor deliver strong performances in various roles. If the production, at La MaMa, doesn’t stick in the mind, the cast and musicians help it live in the moment.

Shortcomings aside, “There’s Blood at the Wedding” succeeds in remembering those snuffed out by violence. As Amadou Diallo’s mother says in a line quoted in the play: “If there is anything as cruel as the taking of a man’s life, it is the taking away of his story.” Here there’s no such cruelness — onstage, their stories stay alive.

“There’s Blood at the Wedding" runs through June 3 at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa, Manhattan; lamama.org. Running time: 1 hour.