Caridad Svich’s The House of the Spirits is a poetic adaptation of Chilean author Isabel Allende’s haunting historical novel about the Trueba family spanning four generations embedded within the post-colonial social and political turmoil of a South American country. While Allende is Chilean, she does not specify the setting as Chile—by locating the story nowhere places it everywhere. The play follows the intricate story of the Trueba family, situated within a dictatorship and the often forgotten history of the “disappeared”—those who fought the regime or protested were forcibly removed from their homes, tortured and often killed. Our multi-leveled layered set incorporated multi-media projections that allowed the actors to move within a labyrinth of memory and time like a faded sepia photograph. In order to convey the journey through fifty years of history from the 1920s to the 1970s through design, I juxtaposed the stark reality of documentary images from the Junta and the devastation of the earthquake as well as the poetic visual world of the characters and supernatural landscapes of Allende’s imagination. This dark, poetic story incorporates elements of magic realism while exploring the depths of the human spirit.
Directed by Rachel Bowditch
Scenic Design by Brunella Provvidente
Costume Design by Anastasia Schneider
Lighting Design by Anthony Jannuzzi
Sound Design by Jason M. Stahl
Composed by Andrea Silkey and Caridad Svich
Media Design by Alex Oliszewski
Fight Choreography by David Barker
Vocal Coaching by Micha Espinosa
Dramaturgy by Nestor Bravo Goldsmith
Stage Management by Jenissa Yauney
Marcelino Quiñonez, Shay Webster, Julie Rada, Meg Sullivan, Chelsea Pace, Sabrina S. Scott, Erica Ocegueda, Rina Hajra, Myrissa Jeppson, Tyler Eglen, Adriano Cabral, Jeremy Gillett, Brandon Johnson, and Maxx Schau.
The scraps of Allende's story that have made it to the stage are so beautifully realized by Bowditch, her stunning cast, and her crack technical team that even diehard fans of the more complicated tale told in the book will be thrilled and moved.
Allende's beloved debut novel, published in 1982, fictionalizes her native Chile and follows four generations of a Latin American family whose lives are consumed by political power and touched by witchcraft. The book is gory with violence and crammed with political coups, imprisonment, and torture, but the play uses that violence as a more occasional counterpoint to high emotion and some truly gorgeous dialogue.
On a single glorious set that fluidly shifts locations and time, a triumvirate of stunning leads read that dialogue with brilliant clarity. As Clara, Julie Rada ages from a girl to a granny with a simple grace uncommon in a young actor. Marcelino Quiñonez wisely resists hamming up Esteban Trueba's more emotional scenes or playing his villainy too darkly, and the result is a performance that allows us to care about this frankly unpleasant man. And Sabrina S. Scott gives a wonderfully unsettling performance as Ferula, Esteban's feral sister. Her modulated performance — particularly in scenes where she's seen seducing her sister-in-law — brings new dramatic weight to the play.
Even without these fine performances, I suspect the audience would have stayed to cheer the beautiful staging that envelops the production. Brunella Provvidente's multi-leveled set allows characters to speak to one another across time and is draped in evocative slide shows and lighting tricks that make an already splendid production even more superb.