Guest review by Dr. Darise Eror
In the Medieval era, clergymen faced the challenge of keeping the sacred embedded and relevant in the lives of a burgeoning middle class. Their answer? Make it funny! Thus emerged the Morality and Mystery Pageant plays, which blended the sacred with the profane in absorbing, anachronism-riddled theatre. Co-writers Jeffry Farrell and David Lozano prove adept at blending the raucousness with reverence in Cara Mia Theatre Co.’s delightful Nuestra Pastorela, which opened Saturday November 19th and runs through Sunday December 11th at Dallas’ Latino Cultural Center.
Nuestra Pastorela, roughly translated as “Our Christmas Play,” focuses on a family of simple shepherds (Frida Espinosa Müller, Shawn Gann, and Priscilla Rice) and an embodiment of the Devil called Luzbel (R. Andrew Aguilar) who strives to prevent the simple folk from visiting the Christ Child in Bethlehem on the night of His birth. Aguilar – with his rich, expressive baritone voice – handles the lion’s share of the dialogue, exposition, and transitioning of the story with aplomb. Luzbel receives assistance from two demonic minions, the dimwitted but energetic, resourceful Pingo (Omar Padilla) and the sexy, dancing Estrellita (Alejandra Flores). All conspire under Luzbel’s bellowed commands to disrupt the progress of the shepherd family towards Bethlehem, with hilarious results. Amidst the non-stop pratfalls, the slapstick, and the frenetic horseplay floats in white-robed ethereal Angel Gabriel (Jamal Sterling), who speaks as eloquently with his movement as with his voice. Pregnant Maria and Jose (Alycya Magana and Edwin Aguilar) enter seeking safe sanctuary, exuding a reverent energy that stands in perfect, quiet contrast to the chaotic boisterousness of the journeying shepherds and their rowdy tormenters.
The show plays in the LCC’s expansive proscenium space, with the audience seated both in the house and on the stage, where actors engage some audience members as participants. Onstage is a great spot for children to view the show, up close and personal. Watching their laughter and delight explode as the story unfolds enhances the production experience for grownups. For most adults, however, house seating is probably a better choice. Much of what happens upstage gets obscured from view by the seating arrangement onstage. Action and dialogue directed primarily to the main house and/or played down front can be hard to hear over the blasting loudspeakers and difficult to follow when seated onstage behind it.
Costumes feature anachronism with charm, with Maria and Jose dressed traditionally, contrasting with Luzbel’s three piece contemporary business suit and Trump-esque red power tie. Particularly appealing were the red clown noses whimsically transforming ‘normal’ shepherds into jubilant clowns. Gabriel’s magnificent angel wings/ floating cape attire was as lovely as Pingo’s “muy caliente” boxer shorts were hilarious.
Props come from multiple epochs and are well selected and used. (Fluffy stuffed sheep are darling.) Linda Blase’s lighting is on point, particularly her upstage “hell-mouth” used for most of Luzbel’s entrances and exits. Andres Alameda’s live keyboard underscoring from downstage left sets, changes, and enhances the mood swings throughout the 80-minute production.
Pratfalls can be dangerous if blocking is inept or actor energy loses focus, and they dominate this production. Director Jeffrey Colangelo’s meticulous staging and detailed fight choreography, combined with the actors’ directed energy and ensemble playing feel both safe and brightly spontaneous. Billed as a “family-friendly” production, I would take it a step further and say Take Your Children to Nuestra Pastorela. It’s exhilarating and enchanting. Actors speak primarily in English with a sprinkling of Spanish. Non-bilingual folk need fear nothing as the Spanish is translated clearly by actor physicality.
Nuestra Pastorela runs through December 11th, at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak in Dallas TX
Tickets range from $5 to $18
Linda Blase photography
Dr. Darise Eror is full-time professor of Drama at Brookhaven College. She has an extensive background as a practitioner in both acting and directing. Locally, she has directed for Bucket Productions, Mesquite Community Theatre and Plano Repertory Theatre. Favorite acting roles include Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, Nancy in Oliver! and Blanche in Brighton Beach Memoirs. She taught acting for musical theater majors at Brigham Young University where she earned her master’s degree. Darise earned her doctorate at Texas Tech University, where she also taught film and advanced acting courses.