Dallas — Fresh and refreshed is how one feels after experiencing the comic physical theatre joy of Cara Mía Theatre Co. and Prism Movement Theater’s Gog and Magog: Two Clowns Trapped in Hell, a world premiere.
In the midst of mass shootings of high school children in Parkland, Fla., and other national and political tragedies, this piece of pure slapstick in the traditional style of The Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy offers a communal relief valve. It is impossible to hold back the tears of laughter as we share with Gog (Frida Espinosa Müller), Magog (David Lozano) and God (Liz Magallanes) in a moment of their entrapment in hell. We don’t know exactly why they are in hell, but suffice to say that this hell is not gruesomely hellish. Gog and Magog just have a little difficulty getting Abuela’s quesadilla recipe right for God’s taste; therein lies the fun and games.
The Latino Cultural Center stage is turned into an intimate seating setting, so that the distance between actors and the public is minimal. Scenic designer Scott Osborne has created an efficient and compact pyramidal brick oven that also serves, somewhat, as an altar from behind which God makes her appearance.
Get ready to be called into action if seated in the front rows. The forbidden pleasure of playing with food is shared with the audience, some of whom were asked to join the mayhem on opening night. Of special note is the cumbia “Quesadilla Dance.” Be prepared to participate (it’s harmless) and to laugh until your sides hurt.
Written by Jeff Colangelo and Hope Endrenyi and directed by Colangelo, co-produced by Lozano’s Cara Mía Theatre Company and Colangelo’s Prism Movement Theater, this once again proves the power of collaborations to amass talent in order to bring forth something fresh and outside of each particular comfort zones. For Lozano, this piece brings out an inherent talent for making people laugh (the flip side of his serious and driven personae as theatre director and community arts leader). For Espinosa Müller, it is pure joy to see her show off her youthful physical theatre training in clowning—as opposed to seeing her in plain granny garb playing the Abuelita. Without a doubt, physical comedy is a strong point for this theatre power couple, who have been collaborating artistically for 14 years.
The devising and physical theatre focus of Prism brings a new dynamic to the works of Cara Mía. Previous collaborations between these two organizations included the memorable Teotl: the sand show from 2014. Showing off local talent, it is notable that co-writer Endrenyi will be part of the Hamilton national tour.
There’s an certain amount of improvisation in the show, but some of the bits are so perfectly timed they are surely structured. Some of it will change at each performance with a new audience, since the rapport with the audience plays a pivotal part in their clowning. Furthermore, since there is no known language employed — although there are a few intelligible words in English and Spanish — the jibber-jabber is also made up on the spot. This piece demands great timing from stage manager Jonah Gutierrez and an innate intuition for comedic action by the actors, all of which this performance has.
After the opening night performance, Espinosa Müller’s told me, “I think it is important to say that during the staging process, the director always made clear in which direction the improvisations should be headed, and what was to be achieved with each one. This was done always playing with a rhythm that would move the piece along.”
Gog and Magog: Two Clowns Trapped in Hell enjoyed a public workshop in 2016 with Lozano as Magog and Ruben Carrazana as Gog. That performance had great timing and comedic value; however, the switch from the male-male cast to the male-female cast is a fortuitous one. While the dynamics in 2016 were effective, the casting of Espinosa Müller brings a new dimension to this piece. Wearing no make-up (except for a spattering of white flour on the face) and dressed in a baker’s garb, she looks and feels like a child playing in mom’s kitchen while she’s away. There is an element of innocent mischievousness in her rendering of Gog that is totally captivating. It is evident for Lozano, too, that the familiarity of working together with her makes for a relaxing and easy partnership. They play off each other seamlessly. Think of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from the famed sitcom I Love Lucy.
God (Liz Magallanes) plays a mostly invisible role. She seems to be demanding seriousness and the making of a proper quesadilla, particularly those from Abuela’s Cookbook. It is refreshing to see God reveal herself as a larger than life She.
The sound design by Sammy Rat Ríos has an efficient minimalism, calling forth certain moments with a repeated theme that cues Gog and Magog as God is about to make an appearance and scold them. Chef costumes by Ryan Matthieu Smith and properties — a lot of them! — by Frida Espinosa Müller add to the kitchen milieu. Given the number of demo and competitive cooking shows on TV, it’s a sight we’re used to.
But those shows’ shenanigans can’t compare to what we see in this tight, cohesive and very funny performance.
»Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She is also an advisory member of the Latinx Theatre Commons. Contact her at Teresa.Marrero@unt.edu