There are as many unique stories and specific points of view regarding the “American dream” as there are people living in the United States. The UCSB Department of Theater and Dance’s production of Octavio Solis’s Lydia weaves one account of cultural experience into narrative in its portrayal of a Mexican-American family in El Paso struggling to consolidate the expectations of life in America with the realities. Directed by Irwin Appel, Lydia tells one story of life in a country that cannot always live up to its promises of liberty and justice for all.
After a car accident leaves 15-year-old Ceci Flores in a vegetative state, her family hires a maid and caretaker to aid in her recovery. The maid, Lydia, an undocumented immigrant from across the border, develops an unexpected connection with the teenager that shapes the family’s experience of loss. Director Appel related the play to the tradition of “the ambitious, epic tragedy of the American family,” in the vein of works by Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Lorraine Hansberry. Appel called the play charged and intense, and he said it speaks to issues of sexuality, forbidden love, disability, immigration, and the very roots of familial dysfunction.
Though Lydia is set almost 50 years ago, the turbulent social climate of the early ’70s is certainly reminiscent of current events — both eras prominently feature equality and civil rights in political conversation. These social movements called attention to the power of identity and the benefits of diversity and integration, an apt backdrop for a play that comments on the expectations and realities of an “American” life. The Flores family illustrates the struggle of immigration and the effect it has on current and future generations.
Much of playwright Solis’s work reflects the Mexican-American experience. Appel, who selected the play for production, was struck by Solis’s lyrical style after seeing another of his plays, El Paso Blue, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lydia exemplifies Solis’s poetic tone with the implementation of nonlinear storytelling and elements of the fantastic that blur the boundary between the tangible and the intangible. An exploration of family that forces private moments into view, Lydia gives the audience access to the characters’ thoughts and dreams. Ceci’s experience, for example, is communicated to the audience despite her limited physical state.
Lydia will be produced in the round to emphasize the persistent claustrophobic atmosphere of this struggling family living in close quarters. Much of the action relates to the care of Ceci, who’s confined to a hospital bed onstage. This immediate and pressing familiarity with the characters’ private lives plunges the audience to the depths of intimacy with the Flores family. Appel, who is also the sound designer for this show, described Lydia as a story with the conviction and energy recognizable in the music of the late ’60s/early ’70s; Appel has composed the original music heard onstage. Featuring performers from the BFA, Lydia runs February 17-26 at UCSB’s Performing Art Theater. There will be talkbacks with the cast and director after each Saturday matinee. For information, see theaterdance.ucsb.edu.