Flock to the Pastorela

As Cara Mía Theatre brings back its popular Nuestra Pastrola, here's a look at the Mexican tradition of retelling the Nativity story.

published Saturday, November 19, 2016

DallasCara Mía Theatre Co. aims to enchant Dallas theatergoers into the holiday spirit with their original family comedy favorite Nuestra Pastorela, running Nov. 19-Dec. 11 at the Latino Cultural Center. Directed by top-drawer movement and combat specialist and Cara Mía member artist Jeffrey Colangelo, the family-friendly play unfolds as a humorous re-enactment of the Nativity story in Bethlehem, Mexican folktale style.

Photo: Linda Blase
Nuestra Pastorela at Cara Mía Theatre 

Clownish shepherds and their clever sheep, dutiful Mary and Joseph, saintly Angel Gabriel and a bumbling duo of dastardly devils scheming to cause chaos with the seven deadly sins, will tickle the funny-bone while landing gentle socio-political digs along the zany, zigzag pathway. If life is getting you down of late, this is sure to pick you up.

What is a Pastorela exactly? According to University of Arizona’s Southwest Folklife Alliance, La Pastorela, “the Shepherd Play” has a rich cultural, literary and performance history dating back to the 16th century in Spain and Italy as a Nativity drama with simple plot structure. Gullible shepherds trek to Bethlehem in search of God’s gift, El Niño Dios. A powerful evil devil, Lucifer, assisted by dimwits, attempts to distract them from their goal. A blessed angel helps the “pastores” prevail over Lucifer, showing that God’s gift and love are stronger than Lucifer’s malevolent avarice, amoral values and shallow promises. When the Catholic clergy arrived in the New World tasked with enacting dominion at any cost, it adapted elements of existing well-developed folklore into holiday dramatizations to spur conversion among the “ignorant” natives.

But, alas, the artform grew beyond a not-so-subtle indoctrination model. Here’s what makes it a popular folk theater genre with modern appeal. The stock characters remain pretty much the same in some aspects, but playwrights have free rein to create them in the images of contemporary political figures or cultural icons in need of a good drubbing by regular folk, allowing for sly reversals, slapstick horseplay and hearty laughs. According to the SFA, “one year, in Tucson, the devil appeared as Donald Trump tempting the pastores to become his “apprentices.”

What Cara Mía Theatre Co. presents in Nuestra Pastorela falls into this tradition, without identifying any public figures directly or indirectly.

Back in 2003 Cara Mía’s Artistic Director David Lozano studied clowning and mask-making in Mexico, where he first encountered an array of pastorela folk performances in Mexico City.

He says he was drawn to them as they “were full of song, dance and physical comedy. They also appealed to me as they had a clear political dimension with the shepherds, the pastores, who represent the working class, everyday people.”

He liked the fact that the battles between the devil and the pastores were always waged in a comic, slapstick manner. A popular artform, “probably a million different pastorelas are taking place across Mexico right now, in schools, churches, cultural venues and on the streets,” Lozano continues.

When he came back to Dallas after his stint studying in Mexico, Lozano decided that writing a pastorela would fit perfectly into Car Mía’s mission. He decided to add clowning to the shepherds, giving them clown noses. “Clowns are super-human. And I don’t mean they are super heroes although they could be. Clowns are essentially human. They are fantastic reflections of our very own our humanity.” So, with the production’s first director, Jeffry Farrell, over several months the two artists wrote Nuestra Pastorela and debuted it in 2005.

When asked why remount it now, Lozano pauses and considers the question then responds with compassion and commitment.

“Part of Cara Mía’s spirit extends off the page, beyond the canon of text-based published plays. This work demonstrates an integral understanding of clowning and movement. Body and space become the text, as opposed to working reverentially from the published page. This play embodies a core element of Cara Mia’s aesthetic and arises from a long tradition of Hispanic theater.”

Lozano is thrilled to have company member Colangelo, who is also the co-founder of movement theater company PrismCo, directing this time. “Jeff brings a genuine sense of play and honesty to the work, approaches it with total innocence and wonder. I placed no limitations on what he was ‘supposed to’ do. He always brings such a sense of adventure to his creative projects.”

Lozano feels Colangelo cast a dynamic ensemble, with a mix of new and regular cast members who fill the production with comic vitality “It’s a joy to watch resourceful newcomer Omar Padilla play Pingo, the bumbling lieutentant devil to Luzbel. Coming from Mexico, he has enormous familiarity with the pastorela genre. Elastic, wiry and playful, he provides worthy, comedic contrast to R. Andrew Aguilar’s tall, brawny commanding Luzbel. the devil. Along with seasoned regional performer Shawn Gann joining the ensemble for the first time, Cara Mía favorite and senior company member Frida Espinosa Müller portrays a principle pastorela clown.”

Come for the laughs, absorb the message of love and transformation, celebrate the timeless vitality of a longtime Hispanic theater genre—theater of, by and for the people.


» This story originally appeared on the author's blog, CriticalRant Thanks For Reading

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Flock to the Pastorela
As Cara Mía Theatre brings back its popular Nuestra Pastrola, here's a look at the Mexican tradition of retelling the Nativity story.
by Alexandra Bonifield

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