“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way,” wrote Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956, and has a language building named after him at the University of Maryland. When it came to creating the modern Spanish classic for children about a poet and a little donkey, Jimenez indeed looked in a different direction.
There isn’t much of a plot in Platero y Yo. Yet GALita’s bilingual adaptation into a play by Cornelia Cody, who also directed it, is bubbling with life, and comes to such a satisfying resolution, I left with a smile on my face. It’s a good, old-fashioned folk tale about man’s connection with nature.
As directed by Cody, Platero y Yo is given an energetic yet gentle, anthropomorphic, performance that holds together the poem’s episodic structure. A Poet/El Poeta (Tim Pabon) and a burro/Platero (Bob Sheire) develop a friendship. Pabon plays the Poet with such beautifully nuanced intensity, the communion between the man and the animal grows convincingly profound. The Poet talks to Platero in an underplayed, stream-of-consciousness flow. “I let him go wherever he wishes and always he takes me where it is I wish to go,” the Poet says.
It’s spring and Pabon as the Poet/El Poeta projects a warm, mesmerizing sense of peace. Right at the start, Cody’s version makes clear the distinction between Platero as a burro, or small donkey, and an ass, a big, wild animal. The dictionary definition of a “donkey is insulting,” the Poet tells Platero and us. “You are clean and shiny as a water wheel….” the poet rhapsodizes poetically. And Platero’s soft, silver-white costume reinforces the point. (costumes by Alicia Tessari Neiman).
Along the way, the Poet further humanizes Platero by sharing his mandarin oranges and bunches of grapes, which Platero gobbles up gratefully. Together this odd couple journey through the seasons and stages of life in Andalusia, Spain. They share adventures and events of the richly varied village life, filled with carnivals, bull fights and gypsies.
Sheire, in depicting Platero, projects a playfulness that is charming. From a child’s perspective, Platero has nobility. Instead of the clumsy ass who brays raucously, Platero, as enacted by Sheire, delivers a controlled rasp of a hee-haw. During one of the folk singing interludes, Platero even joins in hee-hawing to “Frere Jacques,” sung with audience participation. It’s hilarious. And the youngsters from Francis Scott Key Elementary School, on the day I attended, loved it.
Jimenez, however, who wrote the original poetic short novel in 1914, did not intend Platero y Yo for children exclusively, but rather as a celebration of “the essence of the child.” Three energetic, supporting actors keep the mood crackling throughout with lighthearted playfulness. Cecilia Cackley (Actor 1), Cecilia De Feo (Actor 2), and Karen Morales-Chacana (Actor 3) circulate through the audience handing out flowers, hawking bread, singing Spanish folk songs and inviting audience participation. The overall impact is invigorating.
There is an unwritten rule in children’s literature that applies to plays for kids as well. Death in realistic detail is not confronted. But in Platero y Yo, it is. Lighting by Joseph R. Walls adds an exciting surreal dimension. The Forest Fire, a highly imagistic passage, written with stark color contrasts in Jimenez’ original book, is announced by a bell alarm and staged with lights simulating leaping flames. Lighting patterns shift and seasons change from spring to fall. Small white dots swirl over the stage. Winter comes and goes symbolizing the passage from birth to death, death to birth.
Violence is presented as a part of life. A hunter (Cecilia De Feo) rushes down one aisle complaining of an accidental gunshot wound caused by a mishandled rifle. In another episode, the three young women weep together over a dead bird found in the forest. Death happens so quietly and with such reverence, it becomes part of nature’s life cycle.
Platero y Yo
Closes October 27, 2012
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20010
1 hour with no intermission
Tickets: $10 – $12
Details and tickets
Ultimately, the play is about friendship and community. And breaking the conventional rules. What would you do for a friend? In a later well-acted sequence, the Poet extracts a long thorn from Platero’s hoof. We do not actually see the thorn but we sense Platero’s relief from pain as he nuzzles the Poet with a thank you. But I won’t tell you more and give away the ending.
Four performances are scheduled as morning matinees for school children. Two Saturday afternoon, 3:00 P.M matinees are open to the general public. Moms and dads–gather up your kids and make the trip to Columbia Heights and the Tivoli Theatre. There is ample parking or the convenience of a Metro Station nearby.
Bilingual in Spanish and English. But fluency in Spanish is a definite plus.
Suitable for children pre-kindergarten through 5th grade and the entire family
Platero y Yo By Nobel Prize Winner Juan Ramon Jimenez, Adapted as a bilingual production and directed by Cornelia Cody for the GALita children’s theatre at the GALA. Produced and enacted by GALita at the GALA Tivoli Theatre. Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy