Tuesday, December 16, 2008

La Pastorela at STC: a Latin-American Xmas play

Diablon (Ryan Neilsen), leader of the devils

Like every fine restaurant, every successful theater company has its niche. For theaters the master chef is usually the artistic director. And for the Sacramento Theatre Company that someone is Artistic Director Peggy Shannon, and her specialty is a loving emphasis on the many cultural streams that converge into the unique character of these United States of America.

Most often expressed on the intimate Pollack Stage, that emphasis is currently seen in Edgar Sanchez’s “La Pastorela” (The Shepherd). Adapted for the American stage by Jessica Goldman and Barbara Lynn, the play is an example of a genre popular in Latin America. Often performed in churches by working class actors, las pastorelas are nativity plays where shepherds protect the holy trinity and where good and evil are at war.

The action takes place in Bethlehem where winged angels in diaphanous white gowns rebuff devils in terrifying red masks and do battle over the infant and his parents. Most of the cast are drawn from STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory and the Ensemble for kids and teens.

The youngsters overflow with verve, “amateurish” in the best sense, with a na├»ve passion for their work. Though drawn from a Latino source the play recalls the medieval mystery and morality plays performed in marketplaces by members of various tradesman guilds–and caricatured by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Yet there is something endearing about “LaPastorela.” From the beginning we sense its inclusiveness when we’re invited to step outside before the action begins and observe the actors in a procession onto the stage. There we see shepherds in simple dress led by the pious hermit (Gabriel Catabran) in a big-headed mask resembling Mark Twain. We also meet a colorfully costumed Rooster (Shermanika Freeman), Snake (Hannah O’Bryan) and Owl (Patrick Claypool).

A lazy and ever-hungry Bartolo (Kelly Walker) brings comic relief among the earnest shepherds, while artful battles between angels and devils are choreographed by Jaron Aviv. The musical choreographer is Tayler Anderson.

The scene and costume design come from Michael Peters. Among the most arresting effects are a giant dummy, or puppet, playing “Dios Padre,” or God the Father, and manipulated by a black-cloaked Veronica Grey. Ryan Neilsen leads a team of devils and Margharita Viniguerra leads the band of angels.

Sanchez, director as well as Playwright, composed much of the music. Cynthia Llano Faulkner leads a band of two guitars, a violin and a drum. While songs are sung in Spanish, the dialog is in English translation by Ella Isaguierre and The Language Academy of Sacramento.

“La Pastorela” continues through December 24 in the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street. Ticket prices are $15-$20. Shows are Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call (916) 443-6722 or click the title of this post.

No comments: