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Theater Review: "Lydia"

“Lydia” plays through July 2, 2016 at ion’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest.
Photo credit:
ion’s BLKBOX

Prepare yourself for the shock of entering ion theatre, where 17-year-old Ceci lies on a mattress, apparently asleep. But there’s a not-quite-right look about her, and soon enough we learn that a horrible car crash two years ago – the day before her quinceañera celebration – put her in a permanent vegetative state for which she needs full-time care.

Ceci can’t talk; she can only grunt – except when playwright Octavio Solis chooses to introduce a little magical realism into his darkly poetic family saga “Lydia.” Then she becomes the narrator, the 15-year-old Ceci before the accident.

Ion Theatre presents the San Diego premiere of this lyrical and unsettling play through July 2.

Ceci is part of the Flores family that migrated to the U.S. years ago to make a new life. Some of them are citizens, some are still undocumented. They live in El Paso, close to the Mexican border.

Father Claudio (John Anthony Delgado) works the graveyard shift at a job that doesn’t demand much of him. At home, he drinks a lot and listens to music on headphones. He is given to violence, still regrets having left Mexico, and feels his family ignores him.

His wife Rosa (Sandra Ruiz) wants her children to make good lives for themselves. She used to work, but Ceci now takes up all her time.

Ceci describes her elder brother Rene (Richard Johnson) -- who always looks as if there’s a permanent dark cloud over his head – like this: “Rene, my elder volcano, bustin' noses just by looking at 'em, both hands fulla middle fingers for the whole world.” He does drugs and occasionally goes out with friends to harass/bash gays.

Ceci’s younger brother Miguel (called Misha, and played touchingly by Bernardo Mazón), is still in high school. He writes poetry and dreams of the writer’s life.

When Rosa, itching to get back to work, hires a Mexican maid named Lydia to take care of Ceci while she is gone, everything changes for this family. Lydia (Nadia Guevara) turns out to be more than a maid; she seems to have a mystical power to understand what people (especially Ceci) are thinking, needing or trying to say.

The last character is cousin Alvaro (Alexander Guzman), roughly Rene’s age and recently returned from a tour in Vietnam, who shocks the family by announcing that he’s now working for the U.S. Border Patrol.

“La Migra?” gasps Rene.

The Flores family is broken, but not by the usual definition. They are still together, but each has a secret, a sorrow or an unmet need that will be discerned by Lydia, the kindly and upbeat maid who brings a ray of sunshine into the cloudy atmosphere that is this family.

Secrets and twists come fast and furious in this complex play, demanding a finely tuned cast that can make them flow. Multitasking director Claudio Raygoza (who also did fine jobs on the set, sound and projection designs) has chosen well, and both his direction and their performances are flawless. Kevin Kornburger and Mary Summerday did fine lighting and costume design as well.

Special kudos to Jennifer Paredes, who quick-changes between the handicapped, virtually immobile Ceci and the vivacious young 15-year-old as if it were easy.

Make no mistake, “Lydia” is a harrowing play. If you’re looking for a pleasant evening of comedy, keep looking. But if a beautifully structured and poetically expressed look at a family with problems interests you, “Lydia” is your ticket.

The details

“Lydia” plays through July 2, 2016 at ion’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday  at 4 and 8 pm

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or iontheatre.com