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Chronicle of a Death Foretold (06/15/1995 - 07/16/1995)


New York Daily News: "Chronicle of a Death Foretold"

If only I were groovier, I might enjoy Gabriel Garcia Marquez and hence "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" more.

Alas, I am among the many who got bored midway through the Nobel Prize winner's "A Hundred Years of Solitude," and thus have always been grateful to literary scholar Joseph Epstein for an essay assuring us that "50 years of 'Solitude' is plenty."

Marquez' stories have a fancifulness that makes them appealing to contemporary readers surfeited on realism. They often reflect Marquez' Marxism, which gives him an academic following.

But mainly, what he peddles is a very special tone of voice he narrates his earthy, violent stories in the artificially naive, whimsical manner of a bedtime fabulist.

The story of "Chronicle" is simple. A girl is married. There is no blood on the wedding sheets. Her husband delivers her back to her family. She names her pre-marital seducer, and her twin brothers kill him. There is little depth to the characters. As for narrative interest or even suspense, a narrator frequently tells us, "There has never been a death more foretold."

Graciela Daniele's stage adaptation of "Chronicle" is strongest visually and choreographically. When the twin brothers sharpen their knives, for example, sparks fly up toward the meat hooks above them, a moment of grisly delight. An almost Disney-like moment of whimsy occurs when the food from the wedding banquet floats delicately into the air.

Jules Fisher and Beverly Emmons light Christopher Barreca's evocative sets with a marvelous sense of the dramatic power of shadows. The music is pungent if sparse, the lyrics simple and pointed. The story's erotic undercurrents emerge most powerfully in Daniele's elegant and sensuous choreography.

Even with wonderful performances by George de la Pena as the doomed man, Tonya Pinkins as a shopkeeper, Alexander Proia as the humiliated husband, and Luis Perez and Gregory Mitchell as the avenging twins, the musical is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

It's all very artful, all very arty, but it never engages us emotionally. Nor, I'm afraid, does the story it's based upon. The written word can engage us simply through abundant charm and piquancy. That's not enough for the stage.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "Death is marred by fatal flaw"

The magic realism of the Columbian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez - that compelling blend of actuality and fantasy that runs through most of his novels - would seem to make him a natural for the theater, or at least for the movies.

There is a documentary detailing here that can swirl off into a freefall of extravaganza, each lending an unexpected credibility to the other.

Garcia Marquez's 1982 novel "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," which opened last night at the Plymouth Theater, presented by the Lincoln Center Theater in a sadly drab adaptation "conceived, directed and choreographed" by Graciela Daniele, tells a story of machismo and honor, sex and murder. In itself surely all good, prime-time, tabloid stuff.

And indeed the novel has something of the inexorbility of a Greek tragedy, and something of the blind passion of Lorca's "Blood Wedding." Dishonor has to be expunged by death.

It is the recounting of a murder that could have been prevented - the assassins made their purpose known to the entire village where the action takes place. Yet for various reasons everyone concerned evaded their moral duty and murder proceeded along a path that was made inevitable.

A rich, handsome young man, Bayardo (Alexander Proia) comes to the village, and selects a wife, Angela (Saundra Santiago). Comes the wedding night and he discovers that she was not a virgin - appalled he returns her to her horrified and disgraced mother, Pura (Ivonne Coll).

Who has deflowered her? Angela tearfully names Santiago (George de la Pena) a notorious ladies' man. Her brothers, Pablo (Luis Perez) and Pedro (Gregory Mitchell), immediately determine that honor demands his death. And Garcia Marquez's chronicle displays the interwoven tapestry of events leading to this virtually ritual slaying.

Was Santiago guilty? His best friend Cristo (Julio Monge), who is the story's principle narrator, doubts it. In any event guilt or innocence hardly matters. What honor demands, honor must have.

Daniele is an intelligent woman of the theater, and a sound director. And she has over the years, developed an interesting idea - a musical where dance rather than music carries the weight of the drama.

Unfortunately, despite her good sense and sensibility as a director, she is not an unduly talented choreographer. She is rather like a tone-deaf person trying to write music. She puts dances together but they are unoriginal and, worse, inexpressive.

The story has been adapted by Daniele herself, together with Jim Lewis, and the score is by Bob Telson, helped occasionally by Michael John La Chuisa. The narrative emerges - often holding the interest - from a mixture of words and music, but the dance and mime (the project's major constituent) add nothing but local color.

As in her earlier experiments in this same dance drama form - "Dangerous Games" and "Tango Apasionado" - Daniele shows this odd lack of choreographic creativity.

Despite the overall disappointment, though the performers - de la Pena, Coll and, indeed, all the others - and even aspects of Daniele's always shrewd direction, there are moments here when the sheer aspirations of the concept shine through.

But this is basically a ballet with trimmings, and if you are going to tell a chronicle through dance you need real choreography and genuine, white-hot choreographic inspiration.

New York Post

New York Times: "A Tale of Fate and Magic, Told Back to Front"

Hovering like mythical birds high over "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," the new musical adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, are the Nobel laureate's thoughts relating to fate, mystery, magic and redemption. The thoughts can still be heard, though dimly, as if from a distance that removes much of their original sardonic humor.

Graciela Daniele, who conceived, directed and choreographed "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," has created a frequently stunning show that is less a conventional musical adaptation than a performance piece inspired by Mr. Garcia Marquez. The Lincoln Center Theater production, which opened last night at the Plymouth on Broadway, communicates more through dance than music or song.

Sparely and elegantly designed, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" looks gorgeous. More important, it's performed with verve by an almost profligately large cast headed by Tonya Pinkins, the bewitching winner of the Tony Award for her work in "Jelly's Last Jam," and by four dancers from the ballet world: George de la Pena, Alexandre Proia, Gregory Mitchell and Luis Perez. The music is by Bob Telson, with additional material by Michael John LaChuisa. So far, so good.

It's the sense of the tale that sometimes becomes confused in the otherwise faithful adaptation written by Ms. Daniele and Jim Lewis. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" doesn't neatly fit on the stage in a work that runs only 80 minutes without an intermission. The brisk pace is achieved at some cost to coherence, even if you're familiar with the original.

The Garcia Marquez novel is short but of sumptuously labyrinthine structure. Like the novel, the show begins as a flashback in which the same events are remembered by a gallery of characters at different points of time, so that the outcomes of confrontations are often known before the events that caused them.

This is a delight to the reader who goes through the novel at his own speed, savoring the narrative revelations and the shifts in mood and emphasis. On the stage, in a production that must move forward even when it's jumping back, the tale of poor Santiago Nasar (Mr. de la Pena) is obscured as often as it is illuminated by the sinuous manner of its telling. Poor Santiago Nasar, indeed.

He's a new corpse at the start of the tale, but he's immediately resurrected by the memory of his friend Cristo (Julio Monge). Santiago is the young man at the center of "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," though he's not exactly the hero -- there are no heroes here. He lives with his mother in a small, remote river town in a country much like Colombia. Life has been good to him. He's rich, self-assured and generally liked.

Yet not until the first knife is plunged into him in broad daylight in the main square, which is crowded with friends dreading the inevitable, has he any inkling of what is known by everybody else. That is, his boyhood pals, the Vicario brothers, Pedro (Mr. Mitchell) and Pablo (Mr. Perez), are going to kill him. Only at the instant of death does Santiago understand that this is the way his world will end.

The event will haunt Cristo and everyone else in the town for decades to come. As the narrator of the novel puts it, there was a need "to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible." Says Cristo, "None of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and mission assigned to us by fate."

It's a fascinating story, far more ghoulishly comic than ever quite comes through the stage adaptation. Santiago appears to have been the victim of a chance slander. Angela Vicario (Saundra Santiago) has named him as her seducer after Bayardo San Roman (Mr. Poia), her bridegroom, discovers she's not a virgin on their wedding night. What follows is farce gone lethally wrong.

Bayardo immediately returns Angela to her family wrapped in the unstained wedding sheet. Angela's brothers vow to kill Santiago to restore both family honor and (theoretically, anyway) Angela's virginity. As if to insure that they will be stopped without appearing to shirk their duty, Pedro and Pablo announce their mission to everyone who will listen. Aside from Clotilde (Ms. Pinkins), the bodega owner who functions as the town conscience, no one makes any real attempt to prevent the catastrophe.

There are other bizarre occurrences. When Angela's mother beats her for the disgrace she has brought to the family, the young woman falls suddenly, steadfastly in love with the husband who has just abandoned her. And what about Santiago, who has never thought Angela especially attractive? Having enjoyed himself enormously at her wedding festivities, he enjoys the rest of the night even more at the local whorehouse.

Nobody believes that Santiago is the guilty party, not even Angela's girlfriends. They say, "She told us about the miracle but not the saint."

Garcia Marquez is as interested in the accumulation of fatal coincidences, and in the code of honor that prompts the catastrophe, as in the way everyone finds an excuse not to alert Santiago to his danger. On the stage, though, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" appears to be more about this lack of social responsibility than about love, death and fate, at least until Ms. Daniele asserts herself in her role as choreographer.

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold" speaks most clearly through dance routines that freely and enthusiastically make use of flamenco, modern, Caribbean, even Russian folk movements. It speaks also in the spirit and grace expressed by bodies no longer governed by the physical laws that apply to the rest of us.

There's a seductively luxuriant number early on when the women welcome the arrival of Bayardo, a handsome stranger with the profile of a hawk, who has come to town looking for a bride. Because none of the songs are listed in the program (is this an affectation initiated by "Passion"?), I can only suspect that it's titled "Oh Bayardo." Whatever it's called, it's sung by Ms. Pinkins and danced by the chorus in a way that suddenly gives the show direction and depth.

So, too, does the elaborate sequence in which Mr. de la Pena dances one of Santiago's dreams, which opens up to include virtually the entire cast. Another highlight: a solemn religious procession in which the priest leads the townsfolk to the dock to welcome the bishop, who serenely sails on by without stopping. The procession begins piously enough, but somehow works itself up to a pitch of abandon that's far more sensual than religious.

Because the show's most spectacular dancers are men, the choreography tends to express the male attitude far more completely than it does the female. This may also reflect the dominant machismo mentality, but it leads to a certain narrative imbalance. Ms. Santiago is more of a singer than a dancer. Her Angela is solemn and sweet in her straight dramatic moments and when she sings, but she's little more than a prop to be handled delicately by the muscular Mr. Proia in their dance during the riotous wedding festivities.

The choreography is so much richer than the text that danced interludes, some superfluous, become more important than those needed to give shape to the narrative. Thus you're likely to remember more vividly an athletic number in which Cristo and Santiago express their lifelong friendship, already apparent, than Santiago's encounters with his own fiancee.

Of the other cast members, you should also note Myra Lucretia Taylor, who plays Santiago's unsentimental cook; Monica McSwain, her ripe daughter, and Rene M. Ceballos, as a novice with the soul of a party girl.

The Latin score, lovely without being especially tuneful, is played by an eight-member orchestra conducted by Steve Sandberg. Credit also Christopher Barreca for the sets and Toni-Leslie James for the costumes. Jules Fisher and Beverly Emmons are responsible for the lighting, which evokes the tale almost as effectively as Ms. Daniele's choreography does: life in the Garcia Marquez world is seen as a succession of bright, intense images that leap briefly out of primordial darkness.

New York Times

Newsday: "A Portentous Death Chronicle in Dance"

We’re hardly a month into the new Broadway year, and after last night’s kickoff at the Plymouth, we already have one more new American musical than opened all last season. Perhaps this is an omen.

Omens, you see, are inescapably on the mind after seeing “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” Graciela Daniele’s ambitious 90-minutes dance-theater adaptation of the 1981 novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are omens and family honor in this handsome Lincoln Center Theater production dreams and macho vengeance, striking images and passionate dancing and intense singing and ingratiating music (by Bob Telson) and a big strong cast of performers- many of Hispanic-descent, many trained in our major dance companies.

What we also have, unfortunately, is extremely admirable claptrap, an attractive little evening trying so hard to have deeply mythic and/or sociological import that it becomes what Garcia Marquez, bless him, has never been – portentous.

Part of the gift of the Colombian Nobel Prize winner is his richly unassuming narrative, the way he pulls us into his vivid rhythms of fatalism and inexorable sorrow with an almost playful appreciation for fluke. In “Chronicle,” the master of magical realism tells the relatively simple story of a village haunted by the fact that its people didn’t stop the bloody revenge murder of a popular young man named Santiago Nasar by the brothers of a disgraced bride.

Daniele, who conceived, directed and choreographed the piece, has come a long way since “Dangerous Games,” the repugnant dance drama that celebrated violent sex and torture under the guise of social-criticism on Broadway in 1989. Last year, she staged one of the most fascinating musicals in a long time, Michael John LaChuisa’s “Hello Again,” at Lincoln Center. Since LaChuisa is listed here as providing “additional material,” we had hopes that her latest work would approach its subtlety and sophistication.

Basically, Daniele is closer here to her “Tango Apasionado” mode – spirited Latin-inspired dance, this time hung on the fragile Garcia Marquez story. Against a cracked bluish wall with bird symbols and a dislocated door (designed by Christopher Barreca), she mixed the gut-centered Afro-Caribbean dances with proud leather-on-floor Spanish and some ballet.

The men do manly jumping things with knives, the women teach the trapped bride (the poignant Saundra Santiago) about wedding deceptions. There’s a raucous wedding scene, a sweetly self-knowing procession of religious ecstasy and the chilling moment when the rich groom (Alexandre Proia) realized he has not bought a virgin.

The cast is powerful and the show good-looking. If one can put aside the uneasy feeling that Daniele and composter Telson (“Gospel at Colonus”) are better cultural tourists than original artists, the event is civilized and fairly entertaining.

Daniele and co-adapter Jim Lewis frame the story with the return to the town of Cristo (Julio Monge), tormented friend of the slain Nasar (George de la Pena), asking – more than once – “Why do I keep coming back to this forgotten village”; We see a tableau – people screaming over the corpse and trying to find excuses for not having stopped the murder.

The rest if flashback, a dream-like memory that goes back and forth in time with changing narrators. De La Pena, former American Ballet Theater principal and the only good thing in “The Red Shoes,” is terrific as Nasar. In his spiffy white linen suit (designed by Toni-Leslie James), the actor is delightfully easy with both his charisma and his dancing.

Tonya Pinkins (“Jelly’s Last Jam”) is sultry as the shopkeeper-Greek chorus, her lovely, resonantly hollow sound challenged by the abrupt register changes in Telson’s music. Luis Perez and Gregory Mitchell are both vulnerable and macho as the brothers chosen by senseless tradition to avenge their sister’s honor.

But is Nasar really guilty? We’re not meant to know. We’re also not meant to ask, here, why the bride feels no guilt for having nailed him, or why he burns a fateful letter without reading it, or wonder why we feel the messages about sexual oppression, racism, class, religious hypocrisy and personal responsibility seem so much less obvious when Garcia Marquez waves them into his humane world.


Variety: "Chronicle of a Death Foretold"

With its interwoven themes of lust and honor, fate and social responsibility, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” provides an irresistible framework for Graciela Daniele, a director-choreographer in love with tango music, tango dancers and other popular manifestations of Latin heat. The story, a little-known film version of which was made by Francesco Rosi, concerns a bride who fails to produce the necessary "stain of honor" on her wedding night, and the bloody murder that her shamed brothers commit in revenge.

"There has never been a death more foretold," is a line repeated several times throughout the 80-minute performance, and that certainly is true. Whatever "Chronicle" is about, it's not about plot.

Daniele has translated the story, set in an isolated, probably Colombian, village, into a series of choreographed movements that unfold to the seductive rhythms and insinuating melodies provided by composer Bob Telson. Telson is best known for his scores and songs for filmmaker Percy Adlon ("Bagdad Cafe,""Rosalie Goes Shopping") as well as "The Gospel at Colonus," a spectacular musical that was a hit everywhere but on Broadway. He has spent most of the last decade immersed in African and South American music (not unlike Paul Simon), and some of the major themes in "Chronicle" can be heard on an album, "Calling You," released a couple of years ago.

Daniele's other collaborators are Christopher Barreca, whose surreal set design includes flying food and a long-armed lamp that swings out eerily above the action; lighting designers Jules Fisher and Beverly Emmons, who play around a lot here with shadow and light; and costume designer Toni-Leslie James, who also seems to be having some fun, though most of the outfits also lend a needed dose of reality in these magic-realism precincts.

"Why do I keep coming back to this forgotten village?" is another line repeated during the evening. It's clearly intended to suggest the drawing power of the horror that took place there ("Chronicle" was based on a true event). But despite the best efforts of this talented company, what Daniele hasn't located is the very primal emotions that power this tale. There's just no getting around the central problem of giving "Chronicle" resonance in a culture that doesn't prize the hymen quite so greatly.

Vengeance isn't Garcia Marquez's only concern, and Daniele rightly picks up on the exculpations of the villagers, each of whom has an excuse for not trying to stop what they all have believed from the outset was inevitable. Daniele doesn't go far enough with the social side of the story, and "Chronicle" invites comparison to the single example of this type of theater in which everything worked: Julie Taymor's "Juan Darien," another play with music (by Elliot Goldenthal) that used life-size puppets, tiny figurines, actors and an enchanting story to make magic realism come shimmeringly alive on the stage. "Juan Darien" was seen by only a few hundred people when it ran Off Broadway (there is perennial talk of reviving it), but after a decade the show has itself taken on the quality of myth; more than one of us in the audience back then remembers it as among the top experiences we've ever had in the theater.

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold,' on the other hand, strikes me as a mishmash of elements that don't quite come together and sometimes look vaguely ridiculous. At the Plymouth, this furious journey from ecstasy to death never takes us out of ourselves, as it must. We're always tourists in this town.


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