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In ‘Pedro Paramo,’ a family’s story is revealed in ghostly style

Carlos Cruz (left) stars opposite Henry Godinez as title character “Pedro Paramo” directed by FlorLauten Goodman Theatre.

Carlos Cruz (left) stars opposite Henry Godinez as the title character in “Pedro Paramo,” directed by Flora Lauten at the Goodman Theatre.

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When: Through March 31

Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn

Tickets: $14-$32

Info: (312) 443-3800;

Run time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Updated: April 26, 2013 6:26AM

It begins with a otherworldly sort of funeral, a slow parade of ghostly yet vivid figures reminiscent of those Day of the Dead skeletons so iconic in Mexican culture. And as it happens, what proceeds to unfold in “Pedro Paramo,” the altogether spellbinding world premiere production that marks a unique collaboration between Cuba’s Teatro Buendia and the Goodman Theatre, is a ghost story of grand proportions — a tale of intense passions, terrible cruelty, shattered hearts, deep corruption and paralyzing fear, all filtered through the veil of memory.

“Pedro Paramo,” adapted by Raquel Carrio from Juan Rulfo’s landmark 1955 novel of magical realism — that lyrical, tragicomic, quasi-hallucinatory style that defined much of late 20th century Latin American literature — also is theater very unlike anything made in this country.

Under the direction of Havana-based Teatro Buendia’s Flora Lauten, in collaboration with Chicago actor Henry Godinez, curator of the Goodman’s Latino Theatre Festival, the production — which features a seamless blend of Cuban actors and Spanish-speaking Chicago actors — is a haunted and haunting combination of movement, music and poetic speech that has an almost cinematic quality. To borrow the title of a classic 17th century Spanish drama, it gives the impression that “life is a dream,” even if much of that dream is nightmarish.

The story (in Spanish with English supertitles) unfolds in a series of flashbacks as Juan Preciado (Sandor Menendez), the son of the tyrannical overseer of the town of Comala, follows the command of his dying mother, Dolores (Ivanesa Cabrera), to seek the father he has never known and demand his rightful inheritance. But when Juan arrives in Comala he finds nothing but a ghost town — a place where people are either hiding inside their homes or periodically rising from their graves to tell their part of the story. Juan also learns that his father, Pedro Paramo (Godinez), is dead. So only through the ghostly voices around him can he patch together some sense of the man and his catastrophic hold over the town.

Juan learns that Pedro Paramo could never free himself from love for his beautiful childhood sweetheart, Susana (Charin Alvarez), making life a torment for the countless other women with whom he was involved, including Juan’s mother, who fled to the U.S. The shrewd and salty Eduviges (Laura Crotte) was wild for the man. Paramo’s housekeeper, Damiana (Indira Valdes), lived in fear of him but served him to the end.

And it wasn’t just the women who suffered. As the wealthy, ruthless landlord of the Medialuna hacienda he controlled the destiny of all his neighbors, stopping at nothing to hold onto his power, and employing his associate Fulgor (Carlos Cruz) to do much of the dirty work. He forces the local priest (Alejandro Aldonzo) to set aside his conscience, and to bury Paramo’s illegitimate son, Miguel (Steve Casillas). And when the peasant Revolution begins, he offers payouts for protection.

The performers (also including Dania Aguerreberrez and Sandra Delgado) move with hypnotic, sinewy beauty as they manipulate lengths of gauzy fabric (exquisitely lit by Heather Gilbert) to form houses, walls, rivers, shrouds and fog. And throughout, the onstage musical accompaniment of Jomary Hechavarria and Victor and Zacbe Pichardo adds another layer of deep dreaminess.

While a brief synopsis in the program might have been helpful — especially to those who prefer not to divide their attention between the splendid actors and the supertitles — the all-consuming mood created by Lauten, a director of magical powers, easily envelops you in its spell.

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