The House of the Spirits is a haunting personal and political play based on a novel by the same name. The novel, written by Isabel Allende and adapted for the stage by Caridad Svich, follows a family in Latin America through four generations to tell a story of a complex family in a complex and ever-changing political environment. The result is a tale so layered the audience feels the full effect of simultaneous love, shame, pride and loathing that the narrator (Alba) feels toward her family and her country’s history.
The House of the Spirits is Dense With Poetry and Politics
HE SAID: With around 2 hours of non-stop drama (aside from intermission), this show offers a lot to take in — beautiful and disturbing. The writing is very poetic and, at times, brings a lovely sense of comedy. However, this show is definitely not for the faint of heart as the writing and staging conjure up images of death, rape, and violent revenge all bravely enacted by the stellar cast.
SHE SAID: I definitely agree that an audience member almost needs to brace him or herself for the event — intellectually and emotionally. The House of the Spirits is an eerily complex piece of theatre, pulling the audience in and out of reality with several almost whimsical elements. The combination of the harsh reality of the story and ethereal quality of the story telling makes for a powerful but nearly overwhelming evening in the theatre.
Technical Elements Craft Amazing Realm for Wordy Script
HE SAID: Technically,this show is incredible in every aspect: lights, sound, set, costume, and video. The multiple track set that kept new landscapes flowing in and out throughout the multigenerational story was lovely. The large dog (Barrabas) was created as a puppet, adding an appropriate child-like quality to his scenes, and was brilliantly puppeteered by Dion Mucciacito. Multiple projectors cast live video and images on the floor, including moving text during moments of narration and exposition. I find that technique is usually distracting and rarely does it enhance the piece as well as it did in this show. What I applaud the most is how well each technical element integrated together to create a stunning visual collage and real sensory experience.
SHE SAID: I actuallydid find the words a bit distracting at times, as I couldn’t resist the urge to try to read them as they swirled in and out. That combined with the intensely descriptive text being spoken at the same time was a bit of an overload for the language-processing parts of my brain. I understand that the playwright wanted to pay reverence to the author’s words, but I actually thought the play could have been more fully realized as a piece of theatre if it had let go of most of the large chunks of narrative from the book. However, the projection effects (along with the other technical elements and superb acting performances) were really quite stunning and helped immerse the audience in the world of the play.
Actors Create Beautiful Vessels for Complex Characters
HE SAID: Some exposition could have been cut down, but I appreciated the narration as a guide and the projected words as a connection to the journal’s of the grandmother that helped craft the over all story. You are completely right about the superb acting, though. Everyone in this show — from John Hutton as the vile Esteban Trueba to Franca Sofia Barchiesi as the beautiful Clara to Drew Cortese as the brutal Esteban Garcia — is powerful to the point of amazement. That said, Jeanine Serralles rose above the unbelievably high bar to become the lasting presence of the show, for me. Her performance as Trueba’s mis-used sister Ferula was simply haunting. Then her surprising return as the Count, who was delicate and unabashedly flirtatious, was hysterical and literally stopped the show for applause during the character’s exit.
SHE SAID: I was also really tickled by Serralles’ performance in both roles. In addition, I really connected with Megan Wolf’s performance as Alba. Despite what I said earlier about some of her narrative text, she gave a simple and meaningful performance that never grew unrealistic as it grew more emotionally engaged. And all of the performances were really top-notch, I noted that Jeanne Paulsen, who played several roles and Lanna Joffrey, who played Transito, were both incredibly genuine, and Hutton as Trueba admirably portrayed a complex character who seemed at all times to emit both love and malice.
The House of the Spirits is Like a Master Class in Theatre-Going
THEY SAID: The audience is constantly being served image after image of the most serious nature, which could dizzy or disgust some and certainly makes it not for audiences looking for simply pleasant night out. However, anyone who gets their tickets and finds their way to the Space Theater at the Denver Center will be rewarded with a dazzling array of technical elements harmoniously weaving together an unforgettable sensory experience and an endless flow of beautifully poetic scenes boldly brought to life by some of the best actors in the area.
For more information on the book upon which the play is based, see the Wikipedia synopsis. The House of the Spirits runs until October 23rd in the Space Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Click the banner below for tickets and more information!