ORQUIDEAS A LA LUZ DE LA LUNA
Aguijon II Theatre Company
at Truman College
No matter how safe our private worlds may seem, the outside intrudes—uninvited, often wielding information about us we'd just as soon forget. The outside world threatens and cajoles, and our private worlds shrink or adapt in whatever way necessary.
In Carlos Fuentes's short story "Orquídeas a la Luz de la Luna" ("Orchids in the Moonlight"), the private world belongs to two real-life Latin American screen sirens, Dolores del Río and María Félix. Reality set them a decade apart and on different continents—Félix made films with directors such as Luis Buñuel in Europe in the 1940s, del Río Hollywood movies in the 1950s. But that didn't bother Fuentes, who threw them together in "Orquídeas" without much regard for the facts of their lives.
Fuentes makes Félix and del Río, unrelated and barely friends in real life, sisters. He leaves their filmographies intact but casts them into a parallel universe in which they're retired and living in Venice, California, bored and frustrated. The truth is that del Río died in Mexico a few years ago; Félix is retired there now.
The surreal private world described by Fuentes, one of Mexico's leading writers, is held together by equal doses of love and hate between the two women. In the Aguijon II Theatre Company production, adapted in Spanish for the stage by director Carmen Aguilar (who also plays del Río), the women spend their days napping, going to the funerals of friends they hear have died through the obituary section of the Los Angeles Times, and talking. In fact they talk and talk and talk—about their old films, their marvelous times with Buñuel, Orson Welles, and other celebrities, about the frivolity of their fans, and about being eternal on celluloid.
The truth is, these women are desperate. They are not merely alienated by the young, vital American life on Venice streets but afraid of it in some ways. They watch the world, with all its energy and depravity, through their windows, feeling half jealous, half yearning.
"I am Delores del Río," asserts Delores, holding onto her glory days, trying to pretend the passage of time is irrelevant. Félix understands that time is her enemy. "We're just a couple of old, crazy Chicanas," she tells del Río. She talks about what it's like to live to 90 years of age, and about wasting the neighborhood kids with a sweep of her cane. What she wants to keep is her sense of balance, her sense of Mexicanidad.
The outside world comes crashing through when an obit writer from the Times calls on del Río the day Orson Welles dies. He wants her, as a star of Journey Into Fear, to comment on the meaning of Welles's death. His appearance is particularly torturous because he disguises himself as a fan. Del Río, who's been craving recognition, eats it up; Félix, who fears abandonment, resents it. He retaliates by digging up some of Félix's most shameful past conduct—including a 1940s porn film and the fact that she gave her baby away.
In spite of its melodramatic Romeo and Juliet ending, Orquídeas offers a compelling and complex story. But Aguijon's production, though it's ably acted by the entire ensemble, is much too long (an hour and 50 minutes without intermission) and too talky. By the time the obit writer shows up, we've practically been talked to death. The piece might also benefit from fewer costume changes (they seemed to serve little purpose) and a bit more subtlety of acting and direction.
Moreover, Fuentes's materials and point of view are neither as popular nor as accessible as the show's producers might think. Del Río and Félix, undeniably cult heroes in Mexico, are barely known in the United States anymore. I really wondered whether the young Truman College audience had a clue about these women, or even knew they'd ever existed.