Every storyteller knows that a good fable has a moral. The Cat and the Seagull has a beautiful one, loaded with enough imaginative power to spellbind adults as well as pre-schoolers for 50 magical minutes. But look out! One of the cats making an aisle entrance may land in your lap.
Jacqueline Briceno’s stage direction, backed by co-director Marisol Flamenco seems aimed at drawing out the physicality of the Teatro de la Luna actors, who make the bird and cat roles credible and real. The results are a joy to watch as the actors’ gleeful zest shines through for this cautionary tale about the dangers of ocean oil pollution. But what is also impressive is Briceno’s adaptation of Luis Sepulveda’s novel History of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her How to Fly. Her snappy bilingual dialogue, intermingling Spanish with occasional remarks in English, allow the English-only speakers to follow the action without headsets or sur-titles on an overhead screen. It’s just enough to give the narrative clarity without slowing the pace. (It also reinforces learning two languages at once.) Nonetheless, it certainly helps to know the plot.
Don’t be confused by how the play begins at the end of the story and then flashes back to the beginning. Presenting the story this way hypes the suspense and keeps you on edge. Colonnello (Marcella Ferlito), a rather snarly, menacing cat, and Sabelotodo, whose name means Know-It-All (Alex Alburqueque) are searching for their missing friend Zorbas (Peter Pereya), the cat with a conscience whose mission has earned the cats’ respect. Zorbas, a black cat, has succeeded in teaching the little seagull, Afortunata (also played by Ferlito) to fly. But Zorbas, troubled by an empty nest now that the little bird has flown away, has isolated himself in the church belfry to scan the sky and feel closer to her. It is only when Zorbas relives how he not only protected but also adopted Afortunata as a daughter that we begin to understand the back story…..which is:
A resplendent silver, but pregnant, Mother Seagull (also played by Ferlito), in her death throes after struggling to free herself from an oil spill, urges up enough wing-energy to fly onto a balcony, where fat-cat Zorbas takes a nurturing interest in her. As the delicate but doomed Mother, Ferlito can elicit a tear or two. Mother Seagull lays her last egg and asks Zorbas to shield it until hatched by keeping three promises: To not eat the egg; to take care of the baby bird; and finally, to teach the fledgling how to fly.
Character relationships are clear. Zorbas is the charismatic leader and athletic cat in the way he high-fives Sabelotodo. Alex Alburqueque provides fine acting support as the gray-haired Know-It-All, the wise Sabelotodo, whose use of an encyclopedia provides invaluable information on how to keep a baby seagull alive.
Versatile Marcela Ferlito, who has a chance to use her impressive acting range in her three roles, is especially radiant and resplendent in a white feathered headdress, as the seagull baby, who grows up believing Zorbas is her mother. In Ferlito’s depiction, Afortunata comes across as a sassy upstart, the essence of wide-eyed spunkiness and innocence. But as the fledgling grows up to become a silver seagull who believes she is a cat, she develops a fear of flying. Therefore, it takes Zorbas (Pereyra as sinuously agile as his black, furry costume permits) to persuade Afortunata to accept herself as a seagull.
From this point on the play builds to an inspiring climax, the moral of the story. “Only those who believe can achieve,” Sabelotodo tells his friends and us. Ultimately, Afortunata learns to fly, and the differences between cats and birds are resolved. But you have to see the production to discover how Afortunata does it. Every family should gather its flock, kids and neighbors, and head to the Gunston Arts Center next Saturday, November 14, 2009, for the second performance of this truly soul-stirring, triumphant story at 11:30 A.M.
Production values are excellent. Start with costuming by Rosita Becker. The backdrops depicting sailboat with sails ready to launch from a harbor were designed by Claudia and Sergio Olivos and Mario Marcel. “Every year over a million water birds die from oil pollution,” sounds a warning from the very helpful “Study Guide,” complete with vocabulary lists and scientific background to study, that can downloaded here.
Teatro de la Luna’ Experience Theater Program is ready to tour to any schools or local theaters. For a touring production of The Cat and the Seagull, upon request. Go to www.teatrodelaluna.org for contacts.
The Cat and the Seagull, El Gato y la Gaviota) – TOP PICK!
Based on “History of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her How to Fly,”
(Historia de una Gaviota y del Gato que le enseno a volar”) By Luis Sepulveda
Adapted and directed by Jacqueline Briceno and Marisol Flamenco
Produced by Teatro de la Luna’s Experience Theater Program
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy