Dallas — There are some stories worth repeating and the current production at Dallas Children’s Theater is certainly one of them. Tomás and the Library Lady, an original story by Pat Mora adapted for the stage by José Cruz González, tells the story of Dr. Tomás Rivera, the Texas-born son of Mexican migrant farm workers who went on to become a well-known author and professor. He holds the distinction of being the first Mexican-American to hold the post of Chancellor in the University of California system. U.C. Riverside has an endowed chair in his name. Being an educator, daughter of an immigrant working class family, this story resonates strongly with me, as it very well may also with many others.
Like Tomás, who found the golden key to expanding his world in an Iowa Library through a nurturing librarian, I too, have fond memories of the Redondo Beach Public library and the many wonderful hours of discovery spent there. Without this love of libraries and librarians, I surely would not be sharing my love of literature and the arts with university students now. It was wonderful to see how many DFW librarians attended the opening night! A very nice touch was hearing author Pat Mora share with us details about her friendship with the real-life Tomás Rivera.
This play is a quiet piece, one that shares a slice of a young boy´s life through song and storytelling. When work becomes hard to find in their South Texas hometown, the family migrates north to Iowa to pick corn, spinach and other crops. They do so in an old truck that has seen better days. The family finds their living quarters dehumanizing; they are offered a chicken coup in which a family of 5 must live. Of course, they make do. As they also slave away during long days in the field. The interjection of upbeat music during these scenes gave a tinge of glamorizing what is really long, boring and back-breaking work. However, it is evident that the intent is to underline the positive, can-do, we will overcome all adversity attitude of the family.
David Lugo is cast in a double role as Papá Grande (the grandfather) and Florencio (Tomás’ father). His Papá Grande comes alive in quirky and humorous ways that have the audience wanting to see more of him. Edwin Alan Aguilar’s Tomás resonates with curiosity and warmth of a child whose desire to expand his world through stories shines through, as does his anxiety over a witchy Texas elementary school teacher, whose words “You shall not be lazy, daydream or speak Spanish” not only aptly reflects the racist policies of the times, but haunts Tomas’s nightmarish dreams.
Countering this experience is The Library Lady (lovingly played by Charlotte Akin), herself a German immigrant sympathetic and sensitive of Tomás’ hunger for knowledge. In a double role, Akin also plays the witchy Texas school teacher. Fernando Hernández as the younger brother and Mindamora Rocha as Josefa (the mother) nicely round out the cast of this family-oriented piece. Rocha’s singing voice enhances the experience with a quality of both sweetness and clarity.
Pam Holcomb-McLain is the music director; Jeffrey S. Franks’ scenic and video designs are an absolute delight and go hand-in-glove with Marco Salinas' sound design, as does the lighting by Aaron Johansen. Raul Luna and H. Bart Mc Geehon collaborate on costume and props design, respectively. And lastly, Robyn Flatt (who also understudies the Library Lady), directs this piece—one for which she evidently feels much enthusiasm. Writer Pat Mora was on hand at the opening for book-signing, as well as other pre-show entertainment for children of all ages.
It is encouraging to see the Dallas Children’s Theater embrace the culture of a large majority of its population with positive role model stories like this one.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Department of Spanish, University of North Texas. She also serves as a steering committee member in the Latinx Theatre Commons, a national organization that promotes works by Latinx playwrights, actors, directors and designers