“The House of the Spirits” at Mixed Blood Theatre

Alba (Christina Acosta Robinson) and Esteban Trueba (Dario Tangelson)

Mixed Blood Theatre once again takes us someplace we haven’t been before with The House of Spirits, a bilingual adaptation by Caridad Svich of Isabel Allende’s acclaimed novel. Using the tragedy of Chile’s 20th century politics as a backdrop for the more personal story of three generations of the Trueba family, we are carefully led through a minefield of human cruelties and the heritage Alba (Christina Acosta Robinson) must claim as her own. It is a startling and profoundly moving journey.

When Esteban Trueba’s fiancée, Rosa (Amaya Alonso Hallifax) dies suddenly he moves to the country to claim a family ranch that has been abandoned and languishing for years. Esteban (Dario Tangelson) eventually marries Rosa’s younger sister, Clara, whose clairvoyant powers had already claimed Esteban for her husband. This is Alba’s grandmother and guiding light, exquisitely underplayed by Isabelle Ortega.

Tangelson artfully allowed his character to grow from misguided but earnest to bordering on madness in his rigid and extremist view of society and relationships. He does indeed live out his sister, Ferula’s curse, right before our eyes. Charity Jones gave a convincing performance as the suffering Ferula.

Jason Rojas as Esteban Garcia, one of Esteban Trueba’s many illegitimate children, was riveting as a soldier who rises to his own level of cruelty, clearly spawned by his father’s rejection, and unleashed on Alba.

Robinson’s powerful portrayal took us far beyond Alba’s misery, drawing on the strength of the family she once had and creating hope out of sheer memories. Unfortunately, the last scene as written skips over the moment we were longing for and stumbles through a quick resolution instead. It was literally the only weak scene in the play.

A play of this complexity could, however, use a larger cast – particularly noticeable in the street scenes, the wedding party, and the choice of gender casting in the role of the count (Charity Jones). Jones was very good, and it was a small role, but rather than revealing the character’s gender ambiguity, it underscored the issues with casting a show this tightly. The cast of 12 was perfectly capable of the versatility it required; the scope of the story needed a little bigger ensemble.

Marcela Lorca’s direction framed the scenes in restricted light that seemed to sequester the real pain from us. Characters emerged from behind sheets of black scrim hung on different planes. The shadowed light and sometimes chaotic projected images allowed our imaginations to complete the scene as we would. The projections were wonderfully effective in traversing through time and across the landscape.

Nothing looked square and solid. The world of the play was, instead, at odds with itself searching in the half-light for some acceptable resolution, which it ultimately found and lost, then found again. It was a production so fluid and graceful in rendering its ugliness that we willingly invested ourselves in their lives. As in Allende’s book, we were compelled to continue, for if there’s to be the reward of love at the end for someone as wretched as Esteban, then surely there is hope for us all.

Projected subtitles make this show easily accessible for all, but not appropriate for children. The House of the Spirits runs through November 14.

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