What happens when you accept all the different colors in the world as equal and beautiful? You get a rainbow. In this delightful, droll allegory set to music, El Mundo es un pañuelo/The World is a Handkerchief, Chilean playwright Jorge Díaz, shows us the joy of diversity.
This is a tale that addresses all with many levels of meaning. And in this bilingual adaptation by Victoria R. Golden and Hugo Medrano, we are deluged with witty, sparkling dialogue.
Set designer Osbel Susmán-Peña has created a stunning set of geometric shapes, reminiscent of a surrealist Joan Miró painting that captures beauty and lunacy. A half-circle block and a staircase going nowhere are painted with bull’s eye circles, dominated by the colors of yellow, green and orange against black. Stark white arrows of white light pointing upward, like airplane wings, light up the backdrop (light design by Mary Keegan).
It’s a great whimsical visual that dramatizes how respecting persons of all colors leads to a life of deeper meaning and enjoyment.
Sharon Desiree, who plays Titiloco, the wandering clown, dressed in a harlequin-like costume of red and blue (costumes by Alicia Tessari), gives an infectious performance, nimble and bouncy filled with cartwheels, somersaults and fun. She tickles us into believing that making friends with Titiloco is like traveling with your imagination.
Titiloco is bored with his life in the circus. The same routines day after day exhaust him to a sprawl, flat on the floor. So after singing and dancing to, “My Handkerchief is the world,” the Clown climbs one of the stage center stepladders, and talks and sings about freedom to travel the world. And off the rough-and-tumble clown goes on a magic handkerchief, that works like a magic carpet. First, to the land of Consumania where Titiloco learns that “We shouldn’t consume without thinking.”
But Hugo Medrano’s directing saves us from any heavy-handed moralizing. At one point, the handkerchief becomes a flag on a boat that sails to an island, filled with smoke (smoke appears on stage). On the Island of Smoke, Mr. Smoke, gleefully played by Alex Iraheta, tells us, “Where there is smoke, there is prosperity.” Ironically, it’s prosperity with a price. The smoke pollutes the sky with smog, dirties and wrecks the environment. Suddenly we are hit with looking deeply beneath surfaces, to detect the differences between appearance and reality.
Iraheta delivers a notable performance as Mr. Smoke, dressed in a black top hat with black veil as if he’s going to a funeral. His own. Iraheta becomes a threatening villain, who wears a long flowing, dirty-white robe, over his long tubular body. He looks like a cigarette, except that we see him as a character holding a cigar in one hand. “Smoking is marvelous,” he says, as he doubles over with a debilitating cough. He wants to burn everything around him. In contrast, Titiloco opines that Mr. Smoke should be planting trees to help the environment.
Titiloco, who wants out of the smoke, makes a hang glider out of the handkerchief. In a comical bit, actor Desiree teeters on the plank platform straddled between two tall stepladders. We hear seagull calls. “I’m so high up,” cries Titiloco, creating an illusion of great height before Desiree somersaults off the platform board and lands on the stage below, thrusting us into Fan Land.
Here, director Hugo Medrano aims for audience participation. Mr. Fan, wearing a T-shirt, imprinted with “Soy azul.” (translation: “I am blue.”) pops up from behind the geometric half-moon set piece. Fan announces that people in this land are at war over their different colors, their differences. And we in the audience are told to reach under our seats and find colorful little pieces of fabric. (Mine was red.) It’s an exciting audience moment, as children and families wave fabric pieces of yellow, blue, red, and pink to represent diversity.
THE WORLD IS A HANDKERCHIEF
March 7 – 19
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20010
Mondays thru Saturdays
But Mr. Fan puts a stop to the celebration when he says, “I also like brown.” “Marrón,” says Titiloco in Spanish, adding: “What happens when you mix all colors together? ….You get brown.” From that point on, Titiloco discovers the full-range of the beauty in differences until all stop competing and accept the cry: “Long Live the Rainbow.” You have to see the play to see how they do it.
This central moral prevails into the Land of the Children. This is a place where “….you can only meet children.” And that includes 70-year-old children, implying that an older generation have rich wisdom to share that we should cherish.
The denouement is utterly delightful, thanks to actor Iraheta, who pitches his voice high and convincingly double-plays the character of Pepin. José A. Gonzalez Álvarez earns equal applause by playing Mr. Fan and the Salesman.
So what’s the meaning of the title, The World is a Handkerchief? Here’s one take: Fold a napkin in half, then in quarters, then on the diagonal. Then wad up the napkin into a ball. It’s a small world that is constantly changing, can take many forms. One interpretation could be we are all connected like the four corners of a handkerchief, more specifically like the woven linen threads.
Hurry to see this fanciful gem, layered with profound implications. Another week for daytime school performances.
In Spanish and English. Family friendly, targeted to ages 5 through 12.
El Mundo es un pañuelo/The World is a Handkerchief, written by Jorge Díaz. Bilingual adaptation by Victoria R. Golden and Hugo Medrano. Music by Vittorio Cintolesi. Directed by Hugo Medrano. Cast: Sharon Desiree, as Titiloco. José A. Gonzalez Álvarez, as Mr. Fan, Salesman. Alex Iraheta, as Circus Owner, Mr. Smoke, Pepin. Set & Costume Design: Osbel Susmán-Peña, Light Design: Mary Keegan. Properties & Costume Coordinator: Alicia Tessari. Sound Designer & Operator: Pedro Alfaro. Stage Manager: Tsaitami Duciela. Technical Director: Reuben Rosenthal. Master Electrician: Alex Keen. Light Board Operator: Tsaitami Duciela. Choreographer: Karen Morales. Produced by GALita, and the GALA Hispanic Theatre company. Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.