Dallas — The shootings of school-aged students in the U.S. signal a troubled times, yet simultaneously the children themselves are leading the way to change, as seen in the March for Our Lives movement against automatic weapons.
On a similar note, the modern story line of Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnet addresses a shortage of potable water in a small south Texas town outside of Laredo, as Maria, the protagonist, takes on city hall to remedy this unfair situation. Actually, there are a number of important social issues addressed by this play, which is co-written by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce and Maria F. Rocha, directed by Robyn Flatt, dramaturged by David Lozano and co-produced by Dallas Children’s Theater and Cara Mía Theatre Company.
The plotline is fairly straightforward although the structure of the play itself is not simple. The story follows Maria (Rosalinda Olivares), an ill-behaved and rebellious young lady, whose mother (Mindamora Rocha) sends her to spend time with her Coahuiltecan grandmother (Cecilia Flores) in a small town near Laredo. While the mother hopes to keep Maria disciplined and under control, the Abuela knows better. Abuela believes that what Maria is lacking is a sense of belonging, of cultural identity and purpose.
Upon arrival at Abuela’s rancho, the first thing Maria seeks is access to the internet, of which there is none. Grouchy compounds rebellious, yet Abuela will have none of that. She is busy helping her community, her comunidad, with the lack of water. A sense of responsibility to the community comes up as an important issue, one with which Maria had not felt before. Her frame of mind is highly individualistic and exscinded from a sense of self as part of an indigenous people.
Indigenous you say? Maria denies her Coahuiltecan roots thinking that she is Hispanic. In fact many indigenous peoples have been absorbed into the overall ‘Hispanic’ category, as the generations mixed with Spanish and Mexican peoples throughout South Texas and Northern Mexico.
For lack of more modern modes of entertainment, Abuela begins to tell the local version of the bluebonnet legend to Maria and Tcakei (Edwin Aguilar), the son of a local healer, or curandera, Consuelo (Tiffany Solano DeSena). A crisis is reached when Maria fails to deliver much needed water to a neighbor.
A parallel mythical story develops alongside, as the Deer (on opening night played by Omar Padilla, but in the playbill by Fernando Hernández) appears to Maria as her nahual, her spirit animal. Once Maria begins to follow the Deer and begins to find her own identity footing, which includes lobbying city hall for better water conditions, the legendary story unfolds mostly during the second act. A full cast of characters unfold the Coahuiltecan legend of Yana Wana (Jennifer Reyna and Remi Swan), the girl of the Water Spirit, through indigenous song, dance, and music. Evelio Flores is the onstage musician, the musical director is S-Ankh Rasa, the choreographer Fernando Hernandez. The scenic design (Scott Osborne) depicts the arid desert with its undulating boulders and multi-leveled spaces. The lighting design (Linda Blase) seamlessly dovetails the other design aspects, including the sound design (Marco Salinas) and costumes by Frida Espinosa Müller.
Choreography of traditional Coahuiltecan dances and songs become central to the oral story telling tradition. Native American flute music for the deer’s journey, “Mahtzo’s Lament,” was recorded by Dr. Mario Garza. Cultural advisors include Evelino Flores and Dr. Mario Garza. It is evident that great care was taken to present a cultural tradition as true to its living roots as possible. The co-author, Maria F. Rocha is herself an Elder of the Miakan-Garza band of the Coahuiltecan people. She is also the executive director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos, Texas.
Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnet is a through-and-through Texas story, but don’t let the specificity fool you. It is a universal story of self-discovery and the right of passage from adolescence to early adulthood that combines honoring one’s cultural and ethnic traditions, no matter how downtrodden or invisible they may be in official history books. Looking to one’s own family history through the memory of our grand and great grandparents proves to be more genuine and fruitful than just seeking knowledge in books. This story also suggests the need for the younger generations to take up the task of writing these stories down so they do not disappear.
The Dallas Children’s Center obviously invested a great deal of resources to do this play justice; the productive creative relationship between Schroeder-Arce, Lozano and Flatt continues to bring Dallas youth audiences new and important stories. The entire cast performed beautifully as an ensemble.
This is a show that shouldn't be missed.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Department of Spanish at the University of North Texas. She is also an advisory board member of the Latinx Theatre Commons and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.