Dallas — Nuestra Pastorela, co-authored by Jeffry Farrell and David Lozano, and directed by Jeffrey Colangelo for Cara Mía Theatre Co., successfully intertwines several theatrical traditions: the traditional Christmas Mexican shepherds’ play, the Spanish picaresque, contemporary physical theater and that of the clownesque.
The pastorela tradition (the origin of the word is French, pastourelle, meaning all things related to shepherds) came to the New World from northern Spain via the Catholic evangelical practice by Franciscan friars. The celebration in Mexico normally coincides with the Aztec winter solstice, celebrated by that ancient culture between the 7th to the 26th of December, which coincided well with the Catholic calendar’s birth of Jesus. In some parts of Latin America, such as Puerto Rico, the pastorela is known as posadas (Spanish word for a stop-over at a lodging).
The theme of all pastorelas have the shepherds defy the temptations along the way posed by Lucifer (Luzbel in Cara Mía’s version, devilishly played by R. Andrew Aguilar). The shepherds triumph by rejecting evil (in this case the seven deadly sins) to follow the northern star and bring gifts to the baby Jesus. The picaresque aspect highlights the travails of rogue characters of lower class, bringing in the clownesque by casting the three shepherds as clowns, Niña Clown (played by the mesmerizing Frida Espinosa Müller), Niño Clown (by the delightful Shawn Gann) and Mama Clown (played by the forcefully wonderful Priscilla Rice).
Lozano originally developed the role of Niño but could not perform it this year due to a prior commitment to direct a senior student production The Siege of Numancia at the University of North Texas (with highly sophisticated mise-en-scène and acting, by the way). According to him, this original version of the pastorela was developed by him and co-author Farrell in an organic way, emerging from the tradition of physical theater. Farrell trained under the legendary French actor-mime Jacques Lecoq, and Lozano trained under Farrell.
According to Lozano, the genesis of this type of work for him began in 2004, during workshops with the well-known Mexican Laboratorio de la Máscara (Laboratory of the Mask). It was there that he had a clown workshop with Joan Schirle, the director of Dell’Arte International, and developed the skills to drive the dramatic action through physical comedy, and nonsensical language. Anyone who saw Cara Mía’s 2016 Teatro en Fuga Festival of new works can attest to Lozano’s (and Colangelo’s) instincts for the clown in the hilarious Gog and Magog.
Colangelo’s physical theater techniques add moments of high energy and visual impact through the frequently awesome maneuvers. Colangelo’s collaborations with Cara Mía continue to yield fruitful results.
The character of Pingo (brilliantly embodied by Omar Padilla) is a humorous Mexican devil-in-training under the auspices of the more magnificent Luzbel. Gabriel (played majestically by Jamal Sterling) counterbalances the evil with the seriousness due to a dutiful servant of God the Father. As goes the saying, it is more fun to play the bad guy, and in this piece the fun factor in the battle between good and evil tilts towards the antics of temptation, played seductively by Estrellita (Alejandra Flores) and Pingo. A very pregnant María (Alycya Magaña, beatic and beautifully costumed with the sky and the stars dressed in costumes by Emilee Kyle) and José (handsomely played by Edwin Aguilar).
But it is the clown shepherds that carry the show’s buffoonery and dramatic action. Priceless moments include Frida Espinosa Müller’s Niña and her white sheep (designed by Tish Mussey), Gann’s Niño pulling up his pants in order to stand up to Luzbel, and Rice’s Mama Clown’s ability to knock some sense into her mischievous children.
Speaking of which, part of the audience is seated on stage, including gleeful children who were brought into the action. The rapport between the clowns and the kids was magical and added an element of visual pleasure. In addition, the lighting design (Linda Blase), properties (Frida Espinosa Müller) and the original musical composition played on keyboards by Andrés Alameda add the final, but integral touches to an overall successful and delightful production. The ending is a bit ambiguous, however, leaving the audience wondering when exactly to clap. This production will brighten up hearts and spirits during this Christmas season.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater at the University of North Texas Department of Spanish. She is also an Advisory Board member of the Latina/o Theater Commons.