Get ready, get set, go to GALA for a fabulous burst of imaginative stagecraft of ancient folklore.
“Why should a rabbit have such magnificent antlers?” one masked creature of the forest asks another. That’s because the Creator (Bob Sheire) and the Shaper (José “Chema” Pineda) gave them to Rabbit (Cecilia Cackley). So the jealous Deer, with only tiny ears, asks Rabbit for the antlers. “Let me run a little and you can tell me how I look in them,” says the Deer (Carol Spring), leaping away with horns. Thereafter, Deer never gives them back. And that’s how they got antlers.
As directed by David Lloyd Olsen, a puppeteer and performer himself, Fabulas Mayas is an engaging series of magical tales with morals, dramatizing why the natural world is as it is. From the start, we are made aware of the vast, black, star-studded night sky behind a spherical screen, that fades from silver to gold, (thanks to lighting designer Joseph R. Walls), and provides a stage for the ancient art of shadow puppetry. Flat figures, drawn on cardboard, portraying the Cricket, the Snake, the Bat, the Mice, the Frog, and Bee Hive, are mounted on long sticks and held up between an overhead projector and a translucent screen.
On Wednesday, I had the privilege to sit at the edge of my seat among mesmerized, third through fifth graders from Washington D.C.’s Powell Elementary School for a morning matinee performance of Fabulas Mayas, a script written by Cecilia Cackley, with bilingual adaptation by Karin Tovar. Staged in collaboration with the Wit’s End Puppets, that combines hand and shadow puppets, these authentic, cautionary Mayan folk tales, told for generations to children from Mexico to El Salvador, are dusted off and spotlighted. The stories are filled with lessons for living, the likes of our Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Aesop’s fables. And they offer a worthwhile humanized journey for adults as well.
Back to that sympathetic, pivotal character of the small, defenseless Rabbit, who collapses weeping at the feet of the gods and begs for another pair of antlers. C’mon. What are the tiny, helpless creatures to do for self-defense?
In answer to the whining Rabbit’s temper tantrum, the Shaper gives her long, floppy ears instead, and hopes for peace among all the quarreling, competing animals. Cackley, who does double-duty as playwright and actor, has selected the most action-packed tales to relate how threatened creatures compensate with ingenuity and brainpower to survive. In retaliation against the gods, the Rabbit who was tricked out of losing antlers becomes the greatest trickster of them all and outwits predators like the Jaguars, who are enacted with delightful, mock-menace by José Chema Pineda and Bob Sheire. They make a magnificent, ferocious entrance, only to fall asleep on the cave floor.
Another entertaining highpoint echoes with humor and the universality of an Aesop fable. But as depicted, it’s uniquely Mayan. The predator, Coyote (Sheire), outwits himself by plunging into a well after seeing a reflection of the moon and emerges all wet. And Sheire, the actor, is so believable, he appears to be shaking off real water.
Overall, the point seems clear: All living creatures need each other– are interdependent. They’re interconnected to form a harmonious natural world. The Mayan myths explain the mysteries of why animals and people must share the world. And why the Creator and the Shaper were so plagued with questions and problems, they hid in the mountains “so we could live in peace.”
Closes November 2, 2013
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20010
1 hour, no intermission
Saturday, Nov 2
The quartet of actors Bob Sheire, Carol Spring, Cecilia Cackley and José “Chema” Pineda take turns doing everything from manipulating the shadow puppets behind the spherical screen backstage to playing multiple characters on stage. It’s an impressive feat and bravura performance by all.
Bilingual translation by Karin Tovar is impressively well-balanced between English and Spanish, with enough English to make this theatrical piece open-heartedly accessible to Anglo as well as Spanish speaking audiences.
Fabulas Mayas (Fabulous Mayans), world premiere by Cecilia Cackley . Bilingual version by Karin Tovar . Directed by David Lloyd Olson . Produced by GALita in collaboration with Wit’s End Puppets at the GALA Hispanic Theatre . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy