The Gods Must Be Sandy: TEOTL at Cara Mia/Prism Co.

teotl.jpg

Who or what is a teotl? I’m not versed in Aztec myth. Wikipedia, that shaky source of sometimes-correct information, defines it as a “Nahuatl term, a central idea of Aztec religion, often translated as “god”, maybe possessing “more abstract aspects of the numinous or divine.”

And who or what are Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca? Going back to our trustworthy source, Wikipedia says Quetzalcoatl was a “feathered serpent deity… the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, of learning and knowledge”. Texcatlipoca, the god, is described as “associated with a wide range of concepts, including the night sky, the night winds, hurricanes, the north, the earth, obsidian, enmity, discord, rulership, divination, temptation, jaguars, sorcery, beauty, war and strife. His name in the Nahuatl language is often translated as “Smoking Mirror”.” This information may be irrelevant to this stage review. Neither realization of Aztec gods in the production seems to embody particularly these aspects described.

Cara Mia Theatre Company, in collaboration with Prism Company, presents a masque or dumb show-styled, environmental performance piece in one act through November 2, 2014 at Trinity Groves Warehouse off Singleton Blvd., Teotl The Sand Show. The above-named Aztec gods, or masked representations of them, figure prominently in the interlude’s action. As there is no Director’s note in the program explaining the gods’ presence in this work, and no character speaks in the performance, it’s confusing to follow the arc of stage action or understand character motivations. Is this an adaptation of classical myth? Or does it just borrow the hard-to-pronounce, esoteric words?

Sparring gods: Ivan Jasso, Dean Wray

Sparring gods: Ivan Jasso, Dean Wray. Nan Coulter photo

Director/producer/writer of this work, Jeffrey Colangelo, has a real gift for creating unique environments into which he places his characters/dancers/combatants. Dazzling physical exploration of the environment seems often to exist for its own sake in this talented young artist’s original fantasies. Storyline blurs superficially, and characters float barely-defined, without clear motivation. Such is the case with Teotl The Sand Show. We watch the enactment of what may be a choreographed tragic love story with pitched hand-to-hand combat at its zenith (always present in any Colangelo show I’ve seen). The performance takes place in a unique sand box set environment that spills over into the audience’s seating area (Mark Pearson, scenic/ lighting design). A god figure statue upstage dominates the space and seems to be important to all characters in some non-interactive way. Some characters ‘drink’ sand and react to water when touched as if burned. Some get killed and resurrect as vultures (ghost vultures?) in grotesque masks and black gym work-out attire. Others die and just get resurrected, somehow. Wallet-shaped objects get pulled from the stomachs, or pants pockets, of those killed and placed reverently in slots on the face of the god statue. What do they represent? What do they do? They have no visible impact on the god statue. Alas, I admit I wanted to see the god statue light up or buzz or turn around and come to life. One modern character, called The Westerner, a woman scribbling on a small notepad for some reason, seems to connect on some level with one of the Aztec gods who pops up from beneath the sand. Trigg Watson gets credited in the program for magic and special effects. The bowl of water that changes colors several times when touched looks impressive, whatever significance it has to the dramatic arc notwithstanding. I saw nothing else that indicated magic or special effects beyond what we see on traditional stages. Sand and water pour from tubes above the sand box. Objects pop or get pulled up out of the sand, like they would in a normal set’s trap doors. Still, it’s a curious piece to watch, exotic and alluring.

Successful, powerful, memorable drama integrates form with substance. Teotl The Sand Show’s focus on the former at the expense of the latter keeps it from having the visceral dramatic impact Cara Mia Theatre Company’s shows are known and respected for. But it’s a unique environmental experience with some stunning visuals if you can handle driving over the Trinity swamp to the poorly lit warehouse district at night. I recommend avoiding the nearby Trinity Groves restaurants if you seek sustenance afterwards. I got seated promptly but was never approached by wait staff to order anything.

 Teotl The Sand Show runs through November 2,2014.

Tickets and info: wwwcaramia.org

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