Sometimes the best stories are the ones that are true. “Camila,” the opening production of the Walnut Street Theater’s 2001-2002 season, is such a story. Written by Lori McKelvey, this provocative musical is based on the lives and forbidden love of Camila O’Gorman, an Argentine aristocrat, and Ladislao Gutierrez, a Jesuit priest. This is McKelvey’s third show, and her first to be produced professionally.
The play opens in a tango bar with an introduction by the narrator, Camila’s grandmother, La Perichona. The dancers whirling around her give a preview of the incredible displays of agility that are to come.
The story unfolds against a backdrop of the political and social turmoil of 1840s Argentina. La Perichona reads Camila’s tarot, which reveals that she will meet and fall in love with a stranger on the next full moon. Disregarding her family’s wishes, Camila refuses to marry a wealthy young man, believing that she will meet the man of her dreams someday. This man turns out to be the new parish priest, Ladislao.
When they escape to live their new life, the Federation hunts them relentlessly. The outcome of this story is said by historians to have set in motion events that led to the fall of Rosas four years later.
Camila is a story of passion, betrayal, greed and loyalty. Scenes of racy tango dancing mingle with those of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the tango and the other traditional Argentine dances are stunning. The dance solo of the gaucho Hernandez, played by Francisco Forquera, is wonderfully exciting. “Camlia’s intense choreography and passionate musical score create an impressive display of human emotion.
An amazing performance by Michael Hayden, Ladislao, portrays the tortured mind of a priest who has forsaken his most holy vows for a woman with whom he is deeply in love with. Elizabeth Sastre plays the young Camila. Sastre captures the youthful hope of a girl who yearns for true love, opposing a marriage of convenience. Jane Summerhays as La Perichona, drifts in and out of scenes, providing guidance and narration for the audience. The supporting cast is strong as well, especially Kevin Duda, who plays Camila’s father.
“Camila” is an engaging musical. The sets are austere and avoid overshadowing the play’s fervor. Although the first act is slow, the dancing keeps it from dragging. The second act, supported by a faster pace, carries the show to a triumphant finish that leaves the audience with an ultimate feeling of hope.