Whenever I see an adaptation of a Shakespearean play, I’m reminded anew that his genius lay not in his storytelling but in the layers of language and insight he laid over it. Without that enrichment, the plays lose the majority of their depth and meaning.
One of these adaptations, local playwright Kathleen Cahill’s “Perdida,” is playing Backstage at the Grand Theatre in a production that sometimes hits and sometimes misses.
Cahill’s idea is innovative enough. She has transported Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” to Mexico, turned it into a musical and set it on the Day of the Dead, “a night when the present greets the past.” Perdida, the lost daughter, is born on the Day of the Dead and holds the promise for life and renewal. The play chronicles her journey to be reunited with her shattered family and discover her identity. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, a chance to know who I really am,” she says she sets out for her homeland.
One immediate problem is that Perdida is the play’s main character, and she doesn’t appear until the second act. The first act becomes one long setup, and Cahill hasn’t clothed it with enough depth and complexity to keep it from descending into melodrama. Another problem is the music. Cahill’s lyrics are satisfying enough, but Deborah Wicks la Puma’s music sounds the same and too much like a mariachi band.
The production isn’t helped by the unevenness of the cast; strong singers and actors would go a long way toward compensating for any weaknesses in the material. There are some good performances: Jillian Joy and Dayne Cade Romero are charming and full of fierce energy as Perdida and her lover, Rafael. They have a lovely ballad in a boat that shows off their voices. And Ellie Gallagher is mystical and wise as Carlota, whose song announces the theme of the play: “The heart is the key to every mystery. Life is so short. Where is the time to learn to forgive?”
In the final analysis, “Perdida” works best when it taps into the resonance of Shakespeare’s original themes of forgiveness and redemption. The scene in the cemetery at the end of the play when Perdida and Leopoldo rediscover Gabriela is powerful and touching. These moments affirm that it would be interesting to see the play in a stronger production.
Kathleen Cahill’s adaptation of “The Winter’s Tale” needs a more consistent production to mine the insights and relationships at its heart.
When • Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., through Oct. 28
Where • Backstage at the Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10 to $20 with discounts for students, seniors and groups; grandtheatrecompany.com
Running time • An hour and 45 minutes (including an intermission)