El Paso passages

Poetic Lydia follows a family in transition -- and delves into sheer lyricism
Familia face
Photo by Ed Smith


At the poetic heart of acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis's aching, wild, and poignant new drama, Lydia — receiving a beautifully cast and memorable West Coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company under the direction of MTC's Jasson Minadakis — is a mysterious connection between two very differently challenged and empowered young women: the severely brain-damaged Ceci Flores (Gloria Garayua) and her family's new undocumented Mexican maid, Lydia (Adriana Gaviria). The house they live in, along with Ceci's sharp and sensitive younger brother Misha (David Pintado) and her upbeat but overworked mother Rosa (Wilma Bonet), also comes stalked by some serious, restlessly conflicted, and grieving machismo — aloof yet violent patriarch Claudio (Luis Saguar); renegade big brother and guilt-ridden shit-kicker Rene (Lakin Valdez); and hunky first cousin Alvaro (Elias Escobedo), a newly discharged Vietnam vet turned border patrol agent. But leave it to Solis to put the real muscle in the most compromised of female bodies.

Ceci, played with a deft physical dynamism by Garayua, is the play's vivacious narrator. When not addressing us in physically fluid gestures and urgently poetical language from some residual place inside her own battered head, she lies at the front of the stage in the center of her family's living room, her quaking body a kind of Richter scale of emotional energy registering every molecule of feeling in the tumult around her. She was transformed into this state two years earlier, on the eve of a happier transformation, her quinceañera, after a mysterious car accident that still eats away at her family, especially her father, and older brother Rene, who was at the wheel.

The other motive force, Lydia, arrives with her own near-death experience behind her, something left purposely vague but giving her presence a sense of destiny, especially when it becomes clear that she alone can understand and speak for the seemingly vegetative Ceci. Lydia is also an unexpected balm to the suffering Claudio and a seminal inspiration to the burgeoning poet in Misha. Meanwhile the threat of deportation hangs over her in the person of the zealously authoritarian Alvaro. Before the end, Lydia will become the catalyst for still one more startling transformation, amid joyful memories and torturous longing associated with childhood play and flowering sexuality among the siblings and their cousin.

San Francisco's Solis is one of the theater's great poets of the border, in senses both banally specific and relentlessly far-reaching. Like many of his plays (including Bethlehem, Santos y Santos, and El Otro), Lydia is set just this side of the geopolitical divide between Mexico and the United States, where no lines physical, social, or otherwise actually divide people very neatly — but rather messily and haphazardly. The doubling and blurring of identities among his characters is one of Solis's tried-and-true dramatic avenues into this reality, this border condition, a world forever straddling and negotiating two others to which it can never wholly belong. It's the great paradoxical beauty of his work that in its concrete social and cultural details, hilariously accessible yet indigenous humor, and the sheer lyricism it inspires, this uniquely unsettled world gathers universal force and significance.


Through Sun/12, see stage listings for schedule, $20–$51

Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley

(415) 388-5208


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