Dallas — Teatro Dallas’ newest hour-long play, Tlali, When We Were Earth, delights audiences of all ages, but particularly the young and young at heart with its ingenious story-telling. All of the props and design elements are made from recycled or recyclable materials, including the puppetry and the scenery. A cutup, upside-down plastic Clorox bottle serves as a partial face mask, the handle serves as the nose! The scenic background drop is made of paper that rolls down in four sections, each picturing a different moment and space, an old man’s beard is made from an old-fashioned mop. (Kristin Colaneri designed masks, costumes and props.)
It is a coming of age, time-travel story of ecological dimension in both Spanish and English. The premise is: Imagine if the earth could talk? What would she tell us? ¿Imagina si nuestra tierra pudiera hablar? ¿Qué nos diría?
An old man opens the story as we later find out that it is his own story as a young boy, Tonantiu (who initially prefers to be called Tony). We go back in time to his first camping trip with his parents that changes his life. The “parents” are a male and female flat-figure ventriloquist puppets sewn on a cloth with mouths that articulate speech. Prior to the trip, young Tony didn’t want to be separated from his city friends or technology, but the promise of being allowed to eat marshmallows to his heart’s content quickly changes his mind.
According to Omar Padilla (playwright and actor in this instance) and director Sorany Gutiérrez, the piece was developed under her directorship and the collaboration of the cast members, which includes an original score performed with native and other instruments by frequent collaborator Armando Monsiváis. At Bachman Lake Library on Sunday, June 2, Padilla played Tonantiu and Ani Armenta played Tlali, with behind-the-scenes props assistance by Nicole Romero. Antonio Grifaldo and Luisa Rojas take turns in playing the title roles also.
So, who is this Tlali? For those familiar with Nahua (Aztec) mythology, the name Tlaloc, the male god of rain, lightening and water, will sound familiar. Tlali is a feminized version and in this instance she plays the daughter of Mother Earth, who is quite distraught with what human beings are doing to destroy the balance of her ecosystems. Tlali is sent to earth to find human beings who will dedicate themselves to spreading the word about the need of protect Mother Earth. The play begins with Tony, who has by then accepted his indigenous name of Tonantiu, as an old man. It then backtracks to lead us to the story of how he became aware and brings up to the present again in a circular structure. We go through his early days as a kid who brushes his teeth and leaves the water running, to seeing a giant (puppet) fish snarled up in nets. In this, one of my favorite scenes, Plastic Bag (a larger-than-life brown trash bag) has a conversation with the distraught fish, recalling how plastic is an invention created by humans for our own convenience. However, it has now turned against us as its proliferation threatens the oceans.
The dialogue is delightful, entertaining and educational. The ingenuity of the props is refreshingly simple and effective. In a notable gender-bending move, not only is the traditional male figure of Tlaloc is feminized to Tlali, but the traditional female figure of the Nahua Mother Earth deity, Tonantzin, is masculinized to Tonantiu.
The theme of the day is: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! And at the end of the play the audience members received treats from the City of Dallas Zero Waste, Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability. Danielle McClelland of said office had cloth shopping bags (take one or two to the grocery store rather than using plastic bags), USB ports in the shape of little tree trunks, and other goodies. They fully support Teatro Dallas’ effort to educate all generations of the importance of conservation. Mother Earth needs us!
Remaining performances are:
June 18 at Arlington Recreation Center at 3:30 p.m.
June 19 at Arlington Recreation Center at 3:30 p.m.
June 22 at Trinity River Audubon Center (Dallas) at 10 a.m.
June 22 at Pleasant Grove Library (Dallas) at 3 p.m.
June 23 at Pleasant Grove Library at (Dallas) 3 p.m.
June 29 at Trinity River Audubon Center at (Dallas) 10 a.m.