Think of it as a Rorschach test for theater patrons. As directed by Katrina Ploof at Mad Cow Theatre, Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca's The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belisa in the Garden is a beautifully performed, completely inexplicable story. Whatever you think it's about, that somehow reflects your inner mind and whether you still hate dear old Mom.
Don Perlimplin (Sam Hazell) is a 50-year-old perennial bachelor. His feisty maid, Marcolfa (Michelle Krause), thinks he ought to marry, so she won't have to take care of him in his dotage. Oh, look! Here comes beautiful Belisa (Sarah Matthews) young, innocent, and with a lawyer for a mother (Doreen Heard) who's capable of hammering out a marriage contract in two minutes flat.
Business is business, and soon the happy couple retires to the bedchamber. But the Don has no clear idea what to do. He does admit he didn't really love her until he spied her dressing for the ceremony. Pointed questions about his previous lovers draw only bafflement; he's dashing but asexual. Sensuous Belisa begins to suspect a problem. (For most married couples, this takes a few years longer, but time does compress on stage.)
All is not lost, as Belisa immediately draws a crowd of admirers, and the Don finds that pretending to be a mysterious stranger in love with her is easier than actually consummating the relationship and that a romantic death is just the way to impress his new wife, without all that messy cleanup.
This is enigmatic surrealism at its finest. Hazell's Don seems beautiful and distant, responding most strongly to the most recent force applied. Matthews' Belisa is equally disconnected: Marriage is not romance, but a job she takes on with no more thought than washing the dishes. Overseeing the disjointed couple are two small demons of the night (Cameron Bartell and Emily Bruner), replete in forest green silk and pointy Spock ears. They make Don and Belisa dance to their whims, and whims they are there's no long-range planning going on here. Even Marcolfa retreats once she has her boss parked out of her way.
How do we read their mysterious story, set in an HGTV garden of river rock and low-voltage lighting? Perhaps it's the simple story of a man more interested in the romance of love than the physical act, with infidelity merely a spice to the conquest. Or one can read it as Belisa's stepping stone from obscurity to prominence; as Mother taught, "Money brings beauty, and beauty is desired by many men." More likely, there's a deeper political meaning buried within, a meaning hard to interpret if you have no grounding in the misery that led up to the Spanish Civil War. Yet even devoid of context, this becomes Good Theater there's something to talk about on the drive home.