On paper, “Lydia” may sound like a feel-good story about a mysterious stranger who helps a dysfunctional family learn the importance of love and togetherness. Thankfully, the show is not that obvious in its handling of emotions or plot developments.
Instead, “Lydia” is a gripping and wonderfully intense drama about a family living in extremely close quarters, yet they are secretive and disconnected from one another.
Ceci (Chanel Lucia) is a 16-year-old girl who suffers from permanent brain damage resulting from a car accident. Eventually, her mom hires a maid, Lydia (Samantha Manjarrez), to help around the house. Lydia’s arrival leads to shocking revelations about what happened during the evening of Ceci’s car crash.
The ability to connect with the plot requires a leap of faith. Though Ceci is nonverbal and severely disabled, she is somehow able to communicate with Lydia. Lucia and Manjarrez are so convincing in their roles, their relationship appears to be authentic and credible.
Every cast member gets a moment to shine, but Lucia’s performance is unbelievably effective. As Ceci, she is virtually on stage every second of both acts. The physical movements she makes are always convincing. Her delivery of lengthy, beautiful soliloquies gets to the center of her character’s soul. It is a brave role that requires a lot from Lucia. She is more than up for the challenge of making every moment count.
There are some small flaws that should be addressed. Opening night at the Experimental Theatre was sold out, which rarely happens during a grand opening at San Diego State. The seats were comfortable, but the structure of the theater made it hard to find a seat without someone blocking part of the stage. It does not take away too much, but it can be difficult to see certain parts of Ryan Grossheim’s extraordinary scenic design.
Also, the title itself is flawed. “Lydia” may be an important character, but she is not the protagonist. It would make more sense if the play were titled “Ceci,” because it is ultimately her journey the audience embarks on.
“Lydia” contains very dark material. While the first act is only occasionally tough to stomach, the second is consistently heartbreaking, as the inhabitants seem to be digging themselves in too deep. Even the maid, who would usually be the saintlike moral of reason in another narrative, commits some unforgivable sins, and is hiding some personal information of her own.
The beauty is that the play’s author, Octavio Solis, gives the most unsympathetic humans, such as Ceci’s brutal father and her troublemaking brother, opportunities to show signs of love and tenderness. Solis clearly believes all individuals are multidimensional, and that in the bleakest of times, compassion will never truly die.
“Lydia” is an evocative experience, and another highlight of SDSU’s season of plays and musicals under the self-assured direction of Peter James Cirino.
Tickets and information about “Lydia” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.