Beauty of the Father
NEW YORK - The ghost of playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca hovers over "Beauty of the Father,’’ Nilo Cruz’s languid yet often lyrical new drama that opened Tuesday at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II.
It says something about the play that this famous writer, killed during the Spanish Civil War, is the most theatrical - and talkative - character on stage. As played by the personable Oscar Isaac, he is a friendly, flirty spirit with a sense of humor.
Lorca, stylishly dressed in linen white, converses for much of the evening with a gay, middle-aged painter named Emiliano who lives in a small Mediterranean town in Spain. They talk pretentiously of art, life, love and death, monumental topics for such a small slice of life.
Emiliano is a man in domestic crisis, facing a recalcitrant, long-absent daughter, who has arrived after the death of her mother, the painter’s ex-wife. It’s this father-daughter relationship that should take center stage in Cruz’s tale but it seems to be pushed into the background by other, more interesting plot lines.
One involves the painter’s volatile relationship with Karim, a young Moroccan who works for Emiliano and who is married to an older woman so he can stay in Spain. This warmhearted lady, in turn, pines for Emiliano. And, of course, the daughter falls for Karim.
So there is plenty of potential for drama in "Beauty of the Father’’ and emotions do run high. Yet this meditation on mismatched love never quite delivers the punch these passions promise.
Maybe that’s because Cruz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his "Anna in the Tropics,’’ has a peculiar style all his own - a flowery, leisurely sensibility that works against the explosive nature of these interlocking relationships.
The playwright’s poetic turns of phrase are handled most adeptly by Isaac, who, playing a dead man, can afford to be ethereal. Of the other actors, Priscilla Lopez comes off best as the earthy, worldly wise woman who realizes she has entered into an impossible marriage yet still manages to embrace life.
The daughter remains a question mark throughout the play, a girl defined by her defiance and anger - and not much else. Elizabeth Rodriguez isn’t able to bring more to the role, and the tentative reconciliation between parent and child at the end of the evening seems forced at best.
The father, portrayed by Ritchie Coster, is curiously mysterious, too, an agitated outsider who lusts after the tightly wound Karim, played with suitable agitation by Pedro Pascal. The bewildered young man never seems to be at peace.
The play has been given a loving, sensual production by director Michael Greif. Guitar music fills many of the silences. And the warm lighting of James F. Ingalls floods Mark Wendland’s evocative seaside setting. But "Beauty of the Father’’ needs more than enticing, sensual atmosphere to make it work on stage.
New York City Center Stage II
Through Feb. 19, 2006
Tickets $48 at http://www.nycitycenter.org