Local Current Blog

“The Palabras Project” brings hip-hop, flamenco to Park Square Theatre

Other Tiger Productions

Read this article in Spanish here.

As I write in English, I tend to feel a sentence’s rhythm. Even if I don’t have the most precise words for what I want to communicate, I keep going, writing “word?” where I’m uncertain. Later, I fill in the gaps.

That’s what I do in English. But last Friday, when I went to Park Square Theatre to see The Palabras Project (by Other Tiger Productions), it felt more natural to take notes in Spanish. Where I would’ve written “word?” in English, I put “palabra?” instead.

The first time I wrote “palabra?” that night in the theater, it struck me that the show’s title shares the word, and I felt a connection. “Palabra” carries endless meaning, I thought. It can be one thing and anything, whether on the page or in a show.

The Palabras Project, like its namesake, did take advantage of the opportunity to be many things. It was a play, a party, a dance performance, an interactive tour, and even a time of mourning. It was also bilingual, presenting the audience with a layered, multicultural story. However, it struggled in the way it presented the overarching Blood Wedding narrative; a lack of clarity and spatially segmented storytelling kept the narrative from unfurling smoothly.

According to the program, The Palabras Project was inspired by a Federico García Lorca play called Blood Wedding. Lorca, the famous poet from Granada, Spain, wrote it in 1932, just before the Spanish Civil War and the start of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. I’d read some of Lorca’s poetry before seeing The Palabras Project, but I’d neither read nor seen Blood Wedding.

When I got to the theater, I entered the Andy Boss Thrust Stage and had a seat. But after a prologue intended to tell the Blood Wedding story — in which a groom discovers that his fiancée has been unfaithful, then goes on to kill Leonardo, his rival — a man named José took the stage. He asked us to leave our seats. It was all part of the plan; “spiritual guides” put audience members in several groups, and they revealed that the night would be an interactive experience. We were going to take a walk.

From there, we toured around the basement of Park Square, hitting a series of rooms and stages (and, one time, a hallway), where we saw short scenes and dance performances, all with roots in Blood Wedding. Being on my feet in that context transported me to Semana Santa processions I’d walked in Spain, where a whole town shuffles toward a cathedral, following an image of Jesus. The Palabras promenade resonated with that experience, but it made storytelling tricky.

Map of the play

Several actors played the same characters (bride; groom; Leonardo), but unfortunately, the conceit could have been more clear. It took me until the second-to-last “installation” to figure out that a wedding veil, for example, always signified the character of the bride.

A highlight of the show, for me, ended up to be Susana di Palma’s performance. Joined by two other dancers, the Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre founder danced an evocative, exquisite flamenco. She played the majestic, grave role of “the Mother of Muerte,” dressed in black lace; when we entered the room, she served us wedding cake. Then, she began her dance: moon-inspired, potent, and more silver than flamenco’s normal fiery gold.

Maria Isa, the extraordinary local rapper, presented music from her new EP, Blood Wedding: The Soundtrack. She wrote its five songs after reading Blood Wedding, and she played two roles (Rosa, a wedding singer, and the Blood Wedding bride).

At José’s house, we honored Leonardo’s body, watching three actors represent his side of the story. At the end, José thanked us for our time, explaining that Leonardo deserved ten minutes from us, even if he wasn’t a hero. “We all deserve ten minutes, eh?” he asked.

Other Tiger Productions, a new company founded by Ricardo Vasquez and Jessica Huang, aims to make creative, uncommon theater. They definitely did so on Friday; the juxtaposition of dance and theater scenes, plus the music and other types of art, was tremendous. But The Palabras Project may have buried the story with its ambitious presentation; not even the prologue helped clear things up. More clarity would help illuminate the beauty of the art.