Dallas — Tonight, Cara Mía Theatre Co. opens The Magic Rainforest: An Amazon Journey at the Latino Cultural Center, for a two-week run. The work, by José Cruz González, requires a lot of physicality, even for a theater company comfortable with physical theater and highly kinetic productions.
We chatted with CMTC’s artistic director and the play’s co-director David Lozano (Jeffrey Colangelo is the other co-director) about the work.
TheaterJones: Can you tell us what audiences can expect from Cara Mía Theatre’s new show?
David Lozano: Audiences will see a magical world created by an extremely imaginative use of everyday materials to create the Amazon rainforest. Through the athletic movement of the actors and the use of puppets, masks, and the manipulations of silks audiences will see the supernatural world of talking plants, animals and Amazon spirits that live along the river. The story pulls you in as it centers on a young boy who refuses the call to be a shaman. Instead, he wants to be a warrior and join the fight of his people against the “Fire Demon” who wreaks havoc on the environment and burns down the rainforest in the name of Progress. Although the play speaks of a serious topic, we see a young boy, Aki, coming of age as he engages with hilarious characters along the way. The play is fun. It is an imaginative, visual feast. The Magic Rainforest is written for young audiences, but according to the recent reviews, people of all ages have been dazzled as much as the children.
Why this play?
We have a resident company of actors who have trained together in physical theater since 2009. This play is perfect for them because they can create this world through their collective bodies. We also have a resident team of designers in Jessie Zarazaga and Mark Pearson (co-scenic designers), Frida Espinosa Muller (costumes, puppets, and props), and Linda Blasé (lighting). Linda isn’t an official resident ensemble member but she has worked on each of our last four productions. Together with our resident designers, we have developed a unique relationship that has wielded some highly visual productions, such as Milagritos by Sandra Cisneros, The Dreamers: A Bloodline created by our ensemble, and Romeo and Julieta adapted from Shakespeare’s play.
It felt like we were ready for a play like this. It was going to be different than any other design and production process because we needed to start earlier than ever before. In fact, we actually had a pre-production design and build process that took place before rehearsals began. At first I was only serving as the producer, but I wanted to be very involved in the design process because I really wanted to see the integrity of the design throughout. My main objective was to find continuity because a play like this could move in too many different directions.
How did the collaboration with Jeffrey Colangelo come about? What does he bring to the mix?
Jeffrey was an actor and fight choreographer for Romeo and Julieta. He is extremely gifted with a highly theatrical mind. I have seen his solo shows and he is both highly conceptual and playful. But when I saw his company, Prism Co., present Baba Yaga, I was so excited about what I saw that I got on the phone and started to call my friends and I said, “You have to see this show and it closes tomorrow.” What impressed me was that he and his ensemble were involved in a very tedious process of telling a story about a witch’s coven but without words and only with one element—long white elastic bands that could be stretched the length of the stage or wrapped around actors. I was struck by the fact that the actors and the director had to put this show together after a painstaking trial and error process. There was no faking. They either worked or they didn’t. If they tangled, the show would have to stop. These actors were able to tell a very engaging story by maneuvering these elastic bands for about 45 minutes. I saw this play as we were beginning early discussions on the Magic Rainforest and I asked the original director, Vanessa Mercado Taylor, to bring Jeffrey on as an assistant director. Unfortunately, since Vanessa had to step out as director, it occurred to me that Jeffrey would be a great person for the job. His expertise with the manipulation of objects would be perfect for creating the several magical spaces of the Rainforest. He also has this playful energy that would be just right for the overall tone of this play.
I considered my desire to work with the design process and to be involved in the performance of the puppets and masks. I decided that Jeffrey and I would co-direct. I really wanted Jeffrey to utilize his talents for manipulating objects, so he led the process with the actors and laid down the blocking of the play that included the magnificent choreography of the silks and the fights. Then, once we integrated the design elements, he continued to take the lead with the actors, and we began to share the stage and even directed simultaneously, working with different actors and different elements.
Looking at this process, I am really impressed by the theatrical muscle we put into this piece. It’s really quite a team considering that Jeffrey and I co-directed and we had the opportunity to collaborate with this seasoned team of designers. Add to the mix members of Cara Mía’s resident ensemble and some members of Jeffrey’s Prism Co. and we boast of a unique collection of artists for this visual and physical theater feast. And we cannot forget Fabricio Farfán from Perú who is the composer-musician. His music and soundscapes evoking the flutes of Perú are awe-inspiring and are a perfect fit with this story that has aspects of the sacred world of the Amazon.
Any recent awards/honors that you want to tell the community about?
I was really amazed that the Dallas Observer just named Cara Mía one of the 10 best theater companies in Dallas. That is quite an honor. That is a distinction that I ever even considered for Cara Mía but it makes me proud. Regardless of that recognition, I think we are achieving what we are setting out to accomplish artistically. That is what satisfies me. We are uniting a diverse array of talented artists with a strong connection to our community.
Cara Mía was one of 19 organizations in the world to win a grant from the Hermes Foundation in Paris, France for a new initiative for youth called The School of YES. We are kicking off The School of YES this summer at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. Almost all of the teachers are resident ensemble members. It’s going to be a powerful experience for the students and teachers alike.
What’s next for CM?
Cara Mía Theatre Co. is in the process of collaborating with The Dallas Theater Center to create part II of the Dreamers trilogy, currently entitled The Dreamers: Deferred Action. We just finished a workshop between the two companies. Next season, we will mount a workshop production with a world premiere the following season.
Jeffrey and I are also talking about combining forces for a Cara Mía Theatre Co. and Prism Co. co-production next year as part of Cara Mía’s season.
Next Cara Mía will offer a six-play season for the first time in our history including two main stage productions at the Latino Cultural Center; two plays that are part of a new studio series featuring published Latino plays; an original movement-based piece in collaboration with Prism Co., and our workshop production with The Dallas Theater, among others.
The Studio Series will allow us to produce plays that would work best in a black box setting. Our ensemble is currently reviewing 31 plays and will choose two for next season. At the LCC, we focus on physical theater and highly theatrical pieces that meet the audience in that large proscenium house. However, the black box will allow us to work on more text-based work.
Who else would you like to collaborate with, in an ideal world? National, international…dream big!
Teatro Abrego from Spain. I have seen these artists’ plays at Teatro Dallas’ international festival since the ‘90s, and their work never ceases to blow my mind. They are able to flawlessly blend elements of poetic images through movement and poetic language. The actors’ performances are fierce and heart-pounding. Abrego’s recent adaptation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding left me breathless. I have been in contact with them but scheduling and funding have been obstacles.
I would love for Joan Schirle from Dell’Arte International to direct us in a clown play. We have spent years working with the theater clown and we have produced a few very successful plays with theater clowns. It would be great to collaborate with Joan.
We have been in discussions with Estudio Teatral in Cuba about a possible collaboration. They have been creating bold physical theater about the beauty and the challenges of living in Cuba for the past 20 years.
I also want to reunite with Laboratorio de la Máscara from Mexico City. They are like family to us and the work we do with them is always exceptional.
Finally, I would love to work with Aristides Vargas from Teatro Malayerba (Ecuador). This would be out of this world for us. Vargas is one of the greatest playwrights I have ever read and would love to tackle his work. And I have seen him direct and perform. His work is just astonishing to me.
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