Michael Bradford’s play Olives and Blood is a memorial, a testament to the aftereffect of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca who was allegedly assassinated near his childhood home in Granada by fascist militiamen in 1936. It is a hymn to the power of dramatic poetry to endure and overcome the prosaic power of angry men and sclerotic social conventions. Garcia Lorca’s favorite word for that power is duende: that which “gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive.” In Olives and Blood Garcia Lorca himself is closer to the original meaning of duende — a goblin, elf, or imp. He is a spirit, a ghost of the creative energy that operates through perfect metaphor, shaping formless experience into memory and then art.
Garcia Lorca as the imp of memory haunts the protagonist Trescante (played by Armando Riesco). The action opens sometime after the death of Franco in 1975. Trescante is sleeping fitfully in his pensión, wrestling with the ghosts of his past: his father, a patrón who built a fortune on the backs of jornaleros; his former commander in the fascist militia; and of course his most famous victim, the poet, playwright, and director Garcia Lorca. Interrupting one of these tormented reveries, a young officer of the Consul General of the World Court delivers Trescante a letter. He is to appear before a fact finding commission whose mandate is to reveal what happened to Garcia Lorca. Trescante, now a broken old man, demoralized by post-Franco Spain’s liberal drift, impoverished by history, and hardened by bad luck, sees an opportunity to set the world to rights. He will finally be able to say that he, Trescante, killed the famous poet.
The ghost of Garcia Lorca tells us that “everywhere else in the world, death is an end. In Spain it is the beginning.” Real life in Spain is the life of the duende, an immortal half life that affects the living and sends chills up your spine. Like the shade in the olive orchards around Granada, the play is a walking shadow that circles Trescante. He weaves it and wraps himself in its cool, earthy darkness hoping to find meaning at least in confession and death. But even this consummation is denied him: in Spain death is only the beginning — a question, not an answer.
The players in Olives and Blood invoke the magic spirits of the dead to make this production come alive. Gian-Murrary Gianino gives an enchanting performance as ghost of Garcia Lorca. The supporting cast are flexible and talented. The laurel goes — as it should — to Armando Riesco. Though you may go to this play to see Garcia Lorca, the true center of gravity is Trescante. It is his life and death, refracted through the ultimate poetic medium — dramatic irony — that charms the audience. Mr. Riesco’s performance will put you under a spell.
If death is the beginning, we must ask where is the end in the Spain depicted in Olives and Blood? For Trescante the end is an unravelling of his story, the revelation that the walking duende is not for him — it’s for us.
Olives and Blood
145 6 Avenue
Through June 24th