It’s hot in this dry expanse of Colombia, and the winds blow madness. And that demanding old lady, ticking off a list of chores for her granddaughter to finish while the matriarch lolls in a rocking chair dreaming of past loves, would be enough to make any 14-year-old yearn for an escape. You imagine a young man, a pledge to flee, a chase across the desert, and those things will happen—but La Cándida Eréndira comes from the fevered imagination of Gabriel García Márquez, so it won’t be quite that simple.
First there’s a fire, for which the grandmother blames the girl; then there’s the sexual slavery, the carnival of excess (potions! musicians! mountebanks!) that grows up around the tent in which young Eréndira entertains the hordes; the ledger in which the old crone jots down each peso earned and spent. From the soldiers who fork over their salaries to the mailman who broadcasts Eréndira’s fame to the laws and the senator that put the grandmother back in charge after the church briefly provides an escape for the exploited girl, the agents and agencies of Colombia’s government are framed with a jaundiced eye by Jorge Alí Triana, who adapted García Márquez’s tale with Carlos Jose Reyes, and who stages it at Teatro GALA on a revolving stage that’s forever bringing new surprises into poor Eréndira’s life. A statue that helps with the housework? A spider-woman, hanging around for no particular reason? A dreamy young innocent of a suitor who comes bearing oranges, each with a diamond at its heart? Why not, and why not more besides?
Perhaps because for those not steeped in the hallucinatory literature from which GALA’s production springs, making sense of all that fanciful incident and the projected English surtitles might be a challenge. Or perhaps because presenting the story as a black comedy—Triana’s approach here—may take the tale of the Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother too far from its roots. I’m no expert on that stretch of the bookshelf, but I do know enough Spanish to wonder why the word “triste”—“sad”—has been stripped from the original title. There’s melancholy here and there in what GALA has put onstage, some of it lovely, a bit of it even stirring. But by and large, at least to me, García Márquez’s dark dream of a parable about a teenager’s destruction plays oddly like a lark.