Jake Lasser, Sofia Lund, Randall Benichak, & Joyce Barnathan (Photo Stephanie Warren)

Jake Lasser, Sofia Lund, Randall Benichak, & Joyce Barnathan (Photo Stephanie Warren)

“The world breaks everyone … those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Two guitarists take a seat on the stage, and a woman in flamenco dress steps into the spotlight, her heels tapping a Spanish tattoo like a brace of castanets. A dandy in a ruffled tuxedo shirt and another in a tweed suit are drawn into the light with her, and each takes turns playing the bull to her matador. She is the ánima of España, and these are her most famous artists, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí.

Olé, written and directed by Paul Bedard, is an extended quotation of Lorca and Dalí, sewn together like one of Burroughs’s cut-ups to make a tragic love story. After the first symbolic corrida, Dalí and Lorca stand back to back talking to each other across a thousand miles. It must be Paris in the 30s, because Dalí is married to Gala, the Russian venus-in-furs who dominated Dalí’s life from 1929 (when Dalí was 25) until her death in 1982. Dalí implores Lorca to come to Paris and flee the incipient civil war. Lorca refuses, naturally. For him the duende is with the gypsies and matadors and those who see deeper things, and that is where he must be because that is where art must be.

We know that Lorca will die on 19 August, 1936 in Andalusia, and that Dalí will live to become the most iconic Spanish painter of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. If you have spent some time studying the history of these Spanish superstars, you know that Lorca was homosexual and Dalí was a dandy who as a young man self-consciously imitated 19th century English “decadents.” These two facts supply Olé’s narrative justification. They are the necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for the love story that follows.

Through dialogue that sounds like correspondence, snippets of poetry and news broadcasts, Lorca pursues Dalí as a lover would pursue his beloved. Dalí is enchanted at first, but eventually spurns the older man. The key to the romantic plot is based on an interview with Dalí, in which the painter avers Lorca was attracted to him, indeed, tried to engage him in sex twice, but whom he refused. That there may have been an unconsummated sexual liaison between the two men seems very likely. That beneath this occurrence there was a lifelong love affair that left Dalí feeling guilty for rejecting his friend in his time of greatest need, like some Spanish version of Brokeback Mountain, seems less likely. There is plenty of evidence to support the argument that Dalí was an opportunist and emotional neuter, but the Dalí presented here is a romantic fantasy meant to fill out the lineaments of a theatrical convention.

The convention is necessary, however, for Mr. Bedard to make an argument for spirit over science in the arts. Dalí gives a disquisition early on to tell the audience that “progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.” If that sounds like a mouthful — or an attempt to rationalize the irrational — Lorca’s response is an invocation of the duende. The idea that enlightened geniuses like Dalí can unite the explanatory power of science with the transcendence of art is the eternally recurring delusion of Scientism. Lorca, by way of contrast, believes in the ancient spirits, the ones that can’t be fully comprehended, much less measured, that humans can only see out of the corners of their eyes or comprehend through the mysteries of love. In the end, Lorca’s truth prevails.

This production is brought to life by Ben Otto as Lorca and Jake Lasser as Dalí. Both actors give off sparks as they dance with the spirit of Spain round and around the stage. The chemistry between them is palpable, and — history be damned — the love is real.

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