Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna of the Tropics) will not be in town for the staging of his surreal stage play Lorca in a Green Dress, opening Friday at Josefina Lopez’s Casa 0101 Theater in East Los Angeles.Â “Right now I’m scripting an opera, here in Florida,” he relates by phone. “It’s based on the novel, Bel Canto, set in Peru.Â I’m writing the libretto. This is going to be a lengthy project.”
Cuban-born Cruz, the only Latino playwright to garner a Pulitzer, attributes Lorca to “my lifelong fascination with the legendary Spanish poet, Federico GarcÃa Lorca. His was a voice that was silenced in Spain during (Spanish fascist dictator) Franco’s regime. Actually, I was working on Anna of the Tropics and Lorca in a Green Dress at around the same time. It just so happened that Anna premiered first , followed by Lorca .”
Cruz’s family moved from Cuba to Miami’s Little Havana in 1970 on a Freedom Flight. “I was 10 at the time and completely Spanish-speaking.Â But as I learned to speak English, I developed a real interest in theater, first acting, then directing and finally playwriting.” These interests developed in earnest when he studied at Miami-Dade Community College in the early 1980s.Â After he moved to New York, he studied playwriting with fellow Cuban expatriate Maria Irene Fornes.
“That’s how I first became acquainted with theater out in Los Angeles,” Cruz recalls.Â “Maria talked a lot about the Padua Hills Playwrights group she was a part of during the ’70s. That must have been an exciting time with all the great playwrights that came out of that experience.” Fornes was so impressed with Cruz’s potential, she recommended him to Paula Vogel, who was teaching at Brown University — where Cruz received his MFA in 1994. Vogel herself won the 1998 Pulitzer for her play How I Learned to Drive.
Casa 0101′s Lopez first met Cruz in New York City at Fornes’ workshop in 1988, when she was writing the play that first brought her renown, Real Women Have Curves.Â “Nilo and I were both starting out as writers,” she recalls. “It is really great that Nilo went on to win the Pulitzer. We have remained friends over the years and we both share a great love for Lorca. And it just seemed so right to bring Nilo’s play to Casa 0101.”
Cruz adds, “I am not involved in this production at Casa 0101, but I did re-visit the play a few years ago when it was translated from English to Spanish. I did some re-writing of the English version and cut some sections. I mainly just did some editing.Â This is the version that Josefina’s company is doing.”
Set in 1936, Lorca in a Green Dress follows the otherworldly adventures of Lorca’s soul after he has been murdered by Spanish fascists. Relegated to spending 40 days in purgatory, his life is played out as a surrealistic panorama, featuring five actors who depict different aspects of the poet’s persona.
Directing the play at Casa 0101 is Jennifer Sage Holmes, associate professor and chair of the theatre and communication arts department at Whittier College and also the director of the Center for Collaboration with the Arts at Whittier College, which is serving as a co-producer of the play. Holmes recently staged and choreographed Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone. In 2009 she directed Lorca in a Green Dress at the ENITBAR (Encuentro Internacional de Teatro de Barranquilla) festival in Barranquilla, Colombia, with a student ensemble from Whittier College.
“Jennifer has a great vision for Nilo’s play,” says Lopez. “She believes Nilo balances audiences on a thin line between life and death because, in the play, Lorca is forced to come to terms with his own death.Â In doing so, Lorca realizes the beauty, and significance, of life.Â Our cast will feature professional actors and performers. Jennifer is also incorporating original music, including an original theme for the play, composed by Christopher Davis.” Songs are interwoven into the narrative, with lyrics by Cruz. The cast of Lorca in a Green Dress includes 13 actors plus a Flamenco dancer and guitarist, who will perform original improvised instrumental music within the performance.
Although Cruz is based in Florida, his works have premiered in theaters across the US.Â Lorca in A Green Dress made its 2003 debut at Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Ashland.Â In 2010, the scheduled premiere of his musical Havana (written with Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy) at Pasadena Playhouse was canceled by the Playhouse’s declared bankruptcy.
“This opera project I am working on right now is pretty time-intensive,” says Cruz. It is based on the novel by Ann Patchett, with music by Peruvian-born Jimmy Lopez. It’s scheduled to premiere in 2015 at Lyric Opera in Chicago.Â Â “I am going to be busy for a while.”
Josefina Lopez just laughs when asked about her schedule. “I’ve been directing my first film, Detained in the Desert, in a lot of locations, including the desert. During the last month, I’ve hardly been in town. I wrote the play version in response to Arizona’s law, SB1070.Â And now I’ve completed the film. My play, Trio Los Machos, was just produced at Casa 0101.Â Of course, I have myriad projects I would like to do, including a musical version of Real Women Have Curves. Casa 0101 is my creative home and I am ecstatic how much it has grown since I founded it in 2000. And now, I get to be an enabler in bringing Nilo Cruz’s wonderful play to life in LA.”
Lorca in a Green Dress, Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st Street (at St. Louis Street), Boyle Heights.Â Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 5 pm, July 20—August 26. Tickets: $20, $17 for students, seniors and groups.Â Â 323-263-7684. email@example.com. www.casa0101.org.
***All Lorca in a Green Dress production photos by Ed KriegerPrint