LYDIA: An Intensely Moving New Play

by Ronald Comer

Octavio Solis is an increasingly important playwright and director living in San Francisco. His work explores the unique Mexican-American experience and his play, LYDIA, first produced in 2008, provides an outstanding example of the powerful prose and vivid story telling for which he is becoming so well known. Like the family depicted in LYDIA, Solis’ parents arrived in the U.S. from Mexico without documentation, later earning their citizenship. The idea of borders, as in the one between El Paso and Juarez, plays heavily as a metaphor in LYDIA, as in other plays by this brilliant writer.

Anjoli Santiago as Lydia with Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly as Ceci in Amaryllis Theatre Company's production of LYDIA by Octavio Solis.

Upon entering the intimate Playground Theater at the Adrianne audiences will find themselves peering into the modestly furnished living quarters of the Flores family. Situated in the middle of the room is a mattress serving as a daybed, upon which is a young woman who appears to be asleep. This is Ceci, who two years earlier was tragically disabled in a car accident on the eve of her quinceñera, her fifteenth birthday. Each member of the family grieves in their own way over the loss of the sister and daughter who they knew prior to her accident. What happened to cause this accident? Who is to blame for her crippling brain injury? How are they each to live their lives now? These are just some of the questions that weigh heavily upon the hearts and minds of this family’s members.

Barrymore Award-winner Joe Guzmán plays Claudio, Ceci’s father whose crushed spirit in the wake of his daughter’s injury has caused him to remove himself from the pain experienced by his wife and two sons. Nonetheless, he remains, as if a latent volcano, a potentially explosive force in this family. His wife, Rosa, is played with exceptional insight by Johanna Carden, takes pride in holding their family together through the sheer strength of an ultimately flawed faith in her ability to know everything that goes on under her family’s roof. Robert DaPonte, who I last saw in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, is once again superb in his portrayal of Rene, Ceci’s older brother whose deeply felt pain is nightly inflicted on others who he may meet in bar fights. As the younger son, Misha, who expresses his pain through his poetry, Mário Canavarro expertly delivers a range of emotions in his struggle for self-expression while continuously pulled in various directions by his now damaged family members.

Seeking a break from the constant total care of her daughter, Rosa hires Lydia to both take over the caring of Ceci and to manage household tasks. This enables Rosa to return to work to assist in contributing an income for her family. In the title role, Anjoli Santiago, as Lydia, is marvelous as the somewhat mystical maid whose seemingly miraculous bond with Ceci ultimately brings the Flores family into direct confrontation of deeply guarded secrets which hold keys to unlocking answers to haunting questions left hanging in the air since the car accident.

Also entering into the family dynamics is Alvaro, Ceci’s cousin, played with great passion by Jonathan Rivera. Alvaro is returning from service in Viet Nam and has recently taken a job with the U.S. Border Patrol. His presence is met with mixed emotion by all family members who see in him both the childhood playmate he once was to the Flores siblings, and now a threat to their lives symbolized by the badge and uniform he wears. However the threats to this family are far more complex than that represented by their distrust of Alvaro in his new role as a representative of irrational immigration laws.

This is a powerfully moving story with exceptionally strong performances by each cast member. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly is simply stunning in her ability to portray how the suffering Ceci experiences in being so tragically deprived of the life and dreams that once were so clearly within her reach. Through the artistic use of lighting, we are able to experience an inner world of memories and current reactions as Reilly rises from the daybed to bring into focus inner thoughts that are very much present and active within Ceci’s speech-impaired, neurologically disabled body. One cannot view this play without being caught up in the unfolding drama as contorted relationships are played out in response to the unexpected impact the maid, Lydia, has on each member of this family. Indeed, LYDIA, will impact all who come to see this magnificently performed and intensely moving new play.

by Octavio Solis
Directed by Josette Todaro
April 13 – 23, 2011
Amaryllis Theatre Company
The Playground at the Adrienne
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia PA
(267) 273-9823

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