Review: Blood Wedding (Soulpepper)

Hailey Gillis, Diane D'Aquila, and Caroline Gillis by Cylla von TiedemannSoulpepper’s Blood Wedding is a visually engaging mixed bag, now on stage in Toronto

Soulpepper Theatre plays with cool genres in their interpretation of the first play in Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s popular Rural Trilogy, Blood Wedding. But while the production demonstrates some interesting ideas, there was a certain je ne sais quoi missing that prevents it from being exceptional.

Blood Wedding begins with the announcement of an engagement between two seemingly well-matched lovers but, in true family drama fashion, the union is soon threatened by long-simmering tensions and hidden passions. As hinted by the title, blood is (figuratively) boiled and spilled, and the meaning of the phrase “blood is thicker than water” is tested.

Although the description of the play from Soulpepper’s website claims it was “reset with the rhythms of rural Ontario,” I thought the production pulled more references from American westerns. Anahita Dehbonehie’s set design of rectangles and long horizons suggests a barren vastness that would not look out of place stretched out behind Clint Eastwood. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting design fills in everything else with a fitting selection of dusty, sienna-hued sunlight and cold moonshine.

The second act, which involves some deadly hide-and-seeking, switches into a more gothic atmosphere, and Dehbonehie aptly drops a forest silhouette that falls like dripping blood to precipitate the shift. My companion could not get that arresting image out of her head for the rest of the night, and the breath-taking production design remained a highlight for us throughout the show.

There’s also been a move in Toronto theatre recently to incorporate live musicians into the staging, and it works very well here. Andrew Penner’s haunting folk/bluegrass duets with Anna Atkinson flawlessly complimented the underlying feeling of desolation that pervades throughout much of the show.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as taken with Penner’s double-duty as the eerie, ferocious Moon in the second act. However, my feelings towards Penner’s portrayal may have been influenced by the fact that I didn’t quite enjoy the second act as much as I did the first. While the quality of the production design remained high, there was an exaggerated theatricality in the performances and direction that felt disjointed from the minimalist poignancy of the first act. I cannot speak to Guillermo Verdecchia’s translation due to my lack of familiarity with the play, but even the text in the second act, albeit more lyrical, did not strike at my heart as sharply as the lines from before.

Similarly, while there were certainly some MVPs in the cast — namely the scene-stealing Diane D’Aquila as Mother and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s raw, heart-wrenching portrayal of the betrayed Wife — I have to admit that I found the acting to be a bit lackluster overall. The actors seemed to be doing their best, but there was a lack of energy and authenticity, even in the ensemble performances, that failed to raise the emotional stakes for me. Perhaps the cast was just having an off-day.

Blood Wedding is enjoyable enough as a masterclass in production design and mood-setting, but it’s unfortunately too uneven to be truly spectacular.


Photo of Hailey Gillis, Diane D’Aquila, and Caroline Gillis by Cylla von Tiedemann.