The titular lovers of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in the Garden” seem like a match made in gold-digger heaven. Belisa (Kristen Connolly DRA ’07) frequently refers to her husband with the not-quite-sexually-appealing nickname “my teeny Don Perlimpleeny-weenie,” and Perlimplin (Michael Braun DRA ’07) proclaims to love his young bride as though he were her father.
Throughout the Yale Cabaret’s production, directed by May Adrales DRA ’06, the two lovers alternately bemoan the pratfalls of their May-December relationship; Perlimplin turns to word play and manipulation while Belisa enjoys numerous dalliances. The four-act play is short and fast-paced. Whimsical props, a pair of goofy “sleep duendes” reminiscent of Tweedle-Dum and –Dee and silly rhymes keep the action light-hearted and amusing, but ultimately the plot feels too cluttered.
By heaping the storyline with subplots involving spells and subterfuge, the simple story gets lost in the mix. Similarly, casting two of the female leads with male actors (Perlimplin’s servant Marcolfa, played by Joe Gallagher DRA ’07 and Belisa’s mother, played by Tommy Russell DRA ’07) lends the production a distracting burlesque quality that adds little to the fundamentally sad exposition of Perlimplin’s loss.
Early in the play, Marcolfa and Belisa’s mother orchestrate the marriage between Perlimplin and Belisa. Gallagher, as Perlimplin’s servant, lists for the aging bachelor the joys of secure coupledom, with the guarantee of sexual intercourse as the list’s keystone.
For Belisa, a young and beautiful girl, the attraction isn’t so much companionship and stability but the fame and riches that will come from being hitched to an older, more prominent man in the community. Soon, the audience is shown highly abridged suggestions of the courtship rituals and marriage that ensue, including scenes of a backlit Connolly singing suggestive songs behind a fabric sheet and an entertaining sequence of syncopated clapping and Spanish guitar.
At this point, the narrative becomes a little shaky. Tragically, Braun as Perlimplin begins to ramble about how he hadn’t desired Belisa’s body initially as the two are relaxing in their bedchambers the night after the wedding. The admission is equal parts inexplicable and offensive to Belisa, who withholds from her husband the carnal delights suggested by Marcolfa earlier. The audience soon learns that Belisa proved more receptive to “five men of all nationalities” who whistled below her window following Braun’s revelation that night, which apparently makes the newlywed an open-minded hussy, at the very least.
The subsequent arrival of the duendes (played by Gallagher and Russell, sans the wigs and baseball-stuffed bras) may or may not be tied to Belisa’s floozy turn. It’s difficult to tell on account of the night sprites’ penchant for talking in floral rhymes and their use of moderately creepy props such as wooden puppets (perhaps a disastrously shrunken Perlimplin effigy?) that have no clearly stated purpose.
The story ends on a note decidedly tragicomic note — that is, with a scene of senseless suicide in which the use of a dagger bent like a flight of stairs causes the viewer to punctuate his or her sighs of sadness with hysterical laughter.
Unfortunately, it is this intimacy between the solemn and the slapstick in “The Love of Don Perlimplin” that hurts the production. The addition of more elements of either or both may have mitigated the emotional whiplash in this hour-long production. Alternatively, the removal of the Charlie Chaplin-esque duendes or the further development of the more sentimental elements in the play (like the wedding) would have fixed the tone problem. But the lack of a prevailing mood — and thus message — in the play promotes in the audience the same lukewarm feelings shared by the hapless protagonists.