Lydia: conflicted, and sensational

From a twisted body and a bittersweet silence, Milagro and playwright Octavio Solis soar into spaces vivid and amazing

In an accident to be explained later, Ceci has lost the following:

Speech. Mobility. Clear eyesight.

Unbeknownst to those around her, she retains:

Compassion, cognition, affection, intimacy, love, trust…and even lust.

That’s the fraught and bittersweet premise of Octavio Solis’s Lydia, the play currently onstage at Milagro that—TL;DR—is amazing.

“Lydia” at Milagro: Maya Malán González is transcendent as Ceci. (Photo © Russell J Young.)

 

 

In a device billed as “magical realism,” Ceci flies from and returns to her twisted body, never venturing further than the things she already knows. She relives a moment of rapture before the accident, she perches beside her family members to assess and console them, she throws herself into her loved ones’ arms as she would if, in reality, she still could. I wouldn’t call this “magical realism,” though as directed by Kinan Valdez and played by Maya Malán González, it does cast a powerful spell. I’d say instead that Ceci straddles two parallel worlds: a corporeal and an emotional plane.

“But if that’s Ceci, who’s Lydia?” you might rightly ask. Lydia is the glue. Lydia (Marian Mendez) is the family’s maid, and is empathic/telepathic/perceptive enough to communicate with Ceci in ways the rest of the family can’t. As a young woman, she also enjoys a special connection with each member of the family: Ceci’s two brothers and father admire her variously romantically and sexually, and to Ceci’s mother, she’s a healthy young woman capable of a kind of mother-daughter bonding that the injured Ceci can no longer offer. Lydia is the only character who can inhabit both realms of the family’s reality, and hence she’s a magnet for everyone’s love. Until later.

The universal love interest stands, in a way, for unfulfillable desires. But during this play you won’t have time to think about what characters stand for; you’ll be too tempest-tossed in the hurricane of their humanity. Seriously, this play is that good.

Naturally, the metaphorical Oscar goes to González as Ceci. Her former/imagined Ceci is electrically vivacious, and her current/compromised Ceci, is incredibly physically convincing and emotionally present. Her agile transitions between those two states are almost unbelievable.

Mendez as Lydia amplifies the imagined Ceci’s youthful exuberance and also tenderly ministers to the compromised Ceci. Tony Green as Ceci’s father Claudio rides mood swings from menace to tenderness, Nurys Herrera as her mom Rosa has her own extremes of warmth and cold. Matthew Sepeda as younger brother Misha is as doe-eyed and sympathetic as older brother Rene (played by Rega Lupo) is guarded and hard.

Lydia (Marian Mendez) soothes Ceci (Maya Malán-González), a brain-injured and movement-impaired character played masterfully.  Photo © Russell J Young

Fair warning: this show is steeped in moral ambiguity, and before it’s over, every one of the characters will do a different terrible thing. If I were to drily expound the plot points, you might find them disgusting. But judgment is not theater’s job. The universe that acknowledges each character’s motivation vindicates all sides.

I sat by the kids of Oregon Children’s Theatre’s YP (Young Professionals) company and watched them get gobsmacked by this show. Themselves no strangers to “edgy” material in a company that’s done Columbinus and In The Forest She Grew Fangs, they were nevertheless on the edge of their seats for the duration, and off them for an ovation, and I don’t think that at that time they were acting.

The kids also seemed to agree that the Spanish-language elements of Octavio Solis’ script are comprehensible through context clues even for those in the audience who may be Spanish-impaired—worth noting as it hasn’t always been the case in Milagro shows.

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Lydia continues through April 8 at Milagro. Ticket and schedule information here.

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