Why do we return to classic love stories? Because they can thrill and teach us. It’s enchanting to watch a rush of a skirt when dancers turn; the words of great poets uttered like vows between sweethearts; the swell of violins before a kiss we’ve seen many times — all made new by today’s actors. Sure, we know these stories like we know ourselves, but maybe that’s why they’ll never stop surprising us.
Corazón Eterno (Always in My Heart) at Mixed Blood Theatre looks and sounds like a coveted old movie. Inspired by the works of Gabriel García Márquez and quoting from the likes of D.H. Lawrence, it’s poetically captivating. But it moves like a drama from producers who made TV nostalgia trips like El Tiempo Entre Costuras and The Crown so alive and relevant. The push and pull of the classic and the immediate provide the play’s strong suits, and its vices.
Set designer Abbee Warmboe puts us in that nostalgic world before the play starts. Covered in synthetic grass, the stage houses elegant benches, columns and cherry blossoms. The garden hosts Julia (Mariana Fernández) and Julio (Israel López Reyes), who fall in love at age 16. Her wealthy father wants her to marry into riches; he lives with his single mother and dreams of songwriting. When her father forces Julia to move away, the couple is sentenced to a familiar story of forbidden love. While Julio builds a business career in hopes of getting Julia back, Julia braces for a new life. She meets a doctor (a charming Sasha Andreev) like her dad dreamed, and they marry, putting even more space between her and her true love.
Pace, plot, poetry
Director José Zayas paces the play like a well-edited epic. In 90 minutes, we follow the lovers from their teenage to elderly years (and, intriguingly, not always in that order). Amber Brown’s costumes help the physical actors play the different ages (Fernández and Lisa Suarez as Julio’s mother were especially strong, bending time with their postures and voices to powerful effect). Playwright Caridad Svich wisely chose which well-trodden paths to go down to achieve a timeless feel without being predictable. Julia and Julio’s star-crossed circumstances mirror those of Romeo and Juliet, giving the story an eternal feel that the pacing makes new.
Most captivating of all, the scenes switch between English and Spanish, with the unspoken language projected in supertitles above the stage. The language gave the play an immediacy and authenticity that pushed it from the untouchable realm of cinema into our hearts. It filled any cracks in the patina, gluing the show together and making it whole.
But behind the language’s allure, the methods that made the play a concise classic also weakened it. No matter how familiar the plot was, the fast pace left crucial parts of it untold or unexplained (for example: why did so much time pass when all that time passed?). The storytelling was so good I would have happily watched it for longer in exchange for a fuller telling. Likewise, the beginning mirrored Romeo and Juliet a bit too much for me. The characters fell in love fast and we were expected to believe this more through what they said than the time they dedicated to it onstage.
Which brings me back to the language. Like the strong acting, costumes and set, the alternating languages smoothed out the wrinkles. They brought all the strong points forward so that the sweeping romantic arc left an energetic pull between old and new. All in all, it was a pleasing look at eternal ideas that’s liable to fill the heart.