Opening night is generally the biggest party that a theater can throw, but Mixed Blood Theatre was seriously hopping on Saturday, night two for “Corazón Eterno.”
The Minneapolis venue, which prides itself on producing diverse and inclusive material, held a preshow reception for members of its Latino Advisory Council, who were clearly pumped up to see a world premiere. Afterward the crowd lingered in the lobby, even though there was no bar in sight. The (sober) energy level was laudable. If only the same could be said for the show.
“Corazón Eterno” is a problematic new play by Latina dramatist Caridad Svich, and her script is not given a quality staging. In 2010, Mixed Blood produced her excellent adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel “House of the Spirits.” Like that multigenerational drama, “Corazón Eterno” aims to be an odyssey as it traces the decades-long, star-crossed romance of Julia and Julio, lovers separated by class and familial discord.
For budget reasons, Svich did not travel to Minneapolis for rehearsals. That’s unusual in the world-premiere theater business, and not a good sign. While she does have a solid relationship with director José Zayas, typically playwrights keep tweaking till opening night. Not that she could fix all that’s wrong here: “Corazón Eterno” suffers from low-budget production values, poor pacing and awkward shifts between settings and genres.
Perhaps epic romance was the goal, but what Mixed Blood ended up with is more like a bilingual version of “The Notebook” with characters who quote D.H. Lawrence. “The great living experience for every man is his adventure into the woman,” Julio says when he meets Julia wandering through a park one spring day. But he’s a lowly bike messenger, and she’s the only child of a wealthy widower who whisks his teenage daughter far away from her suitor.
The initial setting is described as “perhaps the ’50s” in “a world of cherry blossoms with trains in the distance … a blooming world.” Thus, Mixed Blood’s attempt at an evocative set features a giant framed picture of clouds, chintzy fake flowers and a Corinthian column displaying a toy train.
Some scenes are set on the rails, and many years often pass between those scenes, even though the five actors rarely change costumes. It’s unintentionally comical when, for example, Julia (Mariana Fernández) says something about the last five years to her husband (Sasha Andreev), who appears to have quickly donned a pair of glasses and powdered his hair backstage.
There’s a fine art to conveying the passage of time in theater, and these days that art often involves musical interludes, a pause and artful projections. (Mixed Blood’s projector, in this production, is busy aiming English and Spanish surtitles onto a small screen above the stage.)
In addition to switching languages, the script alternates between high-minded romance — i.e., the D.H. Lawrence quotes — telenovela-style musings about cherry blossoms and clever sitcom lines.
The most memorable scene finds Julia sitting in the park with Julio’s mom, Clemencia (Lisa Suarez, an excellent visiting actress). Both are in full-blown “I Hate Men” mode and compare their exes to greedy pigeons.
“Some men are worth it. Some have the souls of poets,” Clemencia says, “They understand women. They understand love. And some know that even if many years go by, a cherry blossom may be found to win the heart of a true love.”
Sappy dialogue aside, I could watch her prattle on for an hour. Instead, the action rushes forward. Poor Clemencia can barely walk in the next scene. Julio (Israel López Reyes) is a now-successful middle-aged executive. Will the two lovers separated as teenagers eventually reunite? You can guess. You can also guess there’ll be cherry blossom metaphors, a train and a cheap costume change.
It’s disappointing to see a subpar production, and such a simplistic play, at a theater that aims to defy convention. “Always in My Heart” is how “Corazón Eterno” translates into English. So remember: There are always reasons to love Mixed Blood Theatre, and to hope that romance will be rekindled at the next show.