The children’s totally-into-it involvement is what makes this play so magical. By the end, Drops of Water is a splash hit without wasting a drop of water.
Last year, children and adults could relate wholeheartedly to playwright Jacqueline Briceno’s The Cat and the Seagull, (El Gato Y La Gaviota), in which a cat saves the life of an orphaned baby seagull. The play was the cat’s meow and a hit. Now Briceno is back as writer/director of Drops of Water (Gatos de Agua), another bilingual family play based on a let’s-protect-the-planet theme for this year’s Teatro de la Luna’s XIII International Festival of Hispanic Theatre.
An original, the script not only alternates Spanish with English to reinforce correct language skills without slowing the pace but also encourages interactive theater. Call it a new genre. Call it trusting the spontaneous combustion of children’s imaginations to be used as energy for magical realism. The actors zap direct questions straight over the footlights so that the children feel invited to break the 4th wall and add to the onstage action. Judging from the responses on both sides of the proscenium, the kids’ improvised remarks feed the actors and fuel this play.
At the edge of the Gunston Art Center’s black-box stage, children in the audience sit transfixed. For the imagistic prologue, Briceno’s staging draws upon an old art called Black Lighting that is cutting-edge and fun because to us it’s new. Sometimes it’s called “acting with hands, lit with ultraviolet (UV) light.” On a totally dark stage, three pairs of illuminated gloved-hands flutter and undulate wildly, as if imitating falling raindrops and flowing water to the sound of music with a pounding beat. The disembodied hands lift up three luminescent world globes (one for each actor). Two globes mysteriously disappear. That leaves one, signifying that we have only one world. Wow! The planet earth in a black void is home.
The plot is simple but the characters are complex. When the lights come up, we get a full-view of the actors who own the hands. All three characters, decked out like clowns, wear bright red noses, white gloves, and color-coded costumes. The problem is that there is no circus; only an unanswered question: “What would happen if our world stopped being beautiful?” In the narration and dialogue that follows, we learn that 71% of the earth’s surface is water. And the city of Gotas (meaning waterdrops in Spanish), a beautiful place endowed with crystal water from a magical fountain, is at risk.
Dew or Rocio, (Marcela Ferlito), who is the bold and daring guardian of the fountain, wants to prevent the outbreak of a pernicious virus that harms the human heart. The King of Contamination or Conta, (Peter Pereyra) is the destroyer, who wants to dump toxic waste into the town’s fountain so “contamination will reign.” But Hydrofriend, or Hidroamigo, (Alex Alburqueque) dashes in, just in time to stop the villain from trashing the entire world.
What is most intriguing is the way Pereyra develops the character of the King of Contamination and builds our willing suspension of disbelief. (Pereyra was last seen in the ensemble and as Uther in Synetic Theater’s King Arthur, another production involving water.) King Contamination is Mr. Nice Guy who talks a good line. He invites the children on a journey to upgrade the world. As he plays hide-and-seek pranks on Dew (Rocio), Conta is playful and mischievous, not scary or freaky. But environmental abuse is evident.
Ever see a flower cry? At one point, Ferlito, as Dew, who wears a sun-yellow t-shirt, uses her expressive eyes for dramatic impact and in a moment of comic relief, impersonates a polluted flower, crying on the ground. Like everyone today, King of Contamination is aware. He knows that clean water is necessary for life, but he grows less likeable as lives up to his name and litters the ground with used soft drink and oil cans. Such behavior threatens the flowers. With Ferlito acting as his foil, Pereyra’s engaging manner establishes a comfort zone that begs for push back from the children.
“I am well-known and admired. Who am I?” Pereyra asks.
“Trash,” the children spontaneously shout.
“No, I am the king—the King of Contamination,” Pereyra responds with mock indignation.
The noisy opposition continues until Dew reassures the children that recycling is a good thing. King Contamination grows angry, more sinister and abusive. When Contamination paralyzes Dew into a statue by spraying her with noxious fumes, “no booing is allowed,” he tells us. And the tyrant becomes mean-spirited. When Pereyra stands poised over the world globe with spray can in hand, he so convinces the kids that he is the force of evil, the children instinctively cry out: “Noooooo, don’t do it.” Or something like that.
But never fear. Alburqueque, with his baritone speaking voice, brings Hydrofriend to life. The actor is as dazzling in a white sweatshirt, as a knight on a white horse. He bounds in and announces himself as the friend of rivers, the planet and all human beings.
Theater can be a delightful teacher without preaching. As if elevated three feet off the ground and larger than life, Pereyra and Alburqueque in slow motion pantomime a surreal duel for dominance. It’s the classic, age-old heroic battle between good and evil dating back to the Golden Age of Spanish Theatre. When Hydrofriend sprays Conta with pure water, sound effects by Marisol Flamenco cooperate. A blaring siren is heard. Conta cries out “Stop,” a command that echoes the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Conta has a vulnerable point, an Achilles heel. As indicated when the children are confronted, King Contamination, the opposite of Life and Goodness, will disintegrate when hit with purity, as symbolized by pure water.
“Do you guys take showers?”
“Yeah,” the children cry out.
“Do you brush your teeth?”
“I think I’m going to melt,” Conta says, as the audience claps and cheers.
The message is clear. Moms and dads, start habits early. Be kind to the planet. The world is like the kids. It likes to be clean. The world is not a trash can. Pick it up. Picking up the trash picks up the world.
Running Time: About one hour. One more performance of Drops of Water (Gotas de Agua) next Saturday, Nov. 27th at 11:30 a.m. Don’t let your family miss it.
Last weekend, the Dominican Republican actors Manuel Chapuseaux and Nives Santana, from Teatro Guyumba, gave a powerhouse performance of Alfred Jarry’s brutally grotesque, and relevant-to-today, 1896 satire, Ubu Rey, (King Ubu), considered by theater historians (like Martin Esslin) as one of the first surreal, theatre-of-the-absurd plays by a 19th century playwright. This play performed by two superb performing artists from the Dominican Republic serves as a warning for our own time. Papa Ubu who becomes King of Poland is a caricature of a montrous ruler who abuses power. After King Ubu murders the nobles and confiscates their wealth and property, he refuses to share his horded gold. Instead, he gives the people bagfuls of paper money with his face printed on the bills.
The XIII International Hispanic Festival continues thru Nov 27th at Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA 22206.
The last weekend in November: Drops of Water, (Gotas de Agua), continues the be-kind-to-the-planet theme, from Teatro de la Luna’s “EXPERIENCE THEATER,” for young spectators, Sat., Nov. 27, 11:30 a.m.
Teatro de la Luna’s XIII International Festival of Hispanic Theatre continues with three performances of Paraguay’s entry, Wistful Memories (Techaga’ U Anoranza), next weekend, Fri. Nov. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat. Nov. 27, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; at the Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA 22206. Buy tickets.
Drops of Water (Gotas de Agua)
Written and directed by Jacqueline Briceno
Produced by Teatro de la Luna’s Experience Theater Program
For Teatro de la Luna’s XIII International Festival of Hispanic Theatre
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Gunston Arts Center Teatre Two
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy