A trio of howling Cadejos, mythical doglike beings played by actors wearing jingling ankle and wrist bells, romp around GALA’s stage as lively piped-in Salvadoran music comes from overhead speakers. The beings perform cartwheels and somersaults and jump on a bed where Rosita, played by Melissa Strova Valencia, lies sleeping. Rosita, who is now living in El Salvador, has been dreaming about her brother in the United States. Homesick, she wants to be reunited with him. This folktale, resurrected by Cornelia Cody, touches on the universal yearning for family reunification, that is well-known to Salvadoran children who are expatriates.
The native Salvadorans believe that the Cadejos are the magical dogs that slumber inside the Salvadoran volcanoes of Chaparrastique and Tecapa, famous landmarks, waiting to erupt. The origins of these stories are cautionary ghost stories, made up by parents and grandparents to scare children, to keep them safe from wandering alone at night. Currently, the warnings about eruptions from Chaparrastique are taken seriously. On December 29, 2013, the actual volcano Chaparrastique, renamed the San Miguel volcano by local Salvadorans, erupted with a column, estimated to be 9 km (29,500 feet) tall. Seismic activity increased on June 13, 2016, followed by a small scale eruption on June 18, that caused the precautionary evacuations of thousands of people living in a 3 km radius around the volcano.
But in this staging, Volcanes-Cuentos de El Salvador is a fun-filled musical, like a word-of-mouth bedtime story, with lots of light-hearted dancing and singing salsa-beat songs about El Salvador and the rings of fire, known as volanes/volcanoes. Actor Roberto Colmenares, when dressed in a feathery headdress, portrays the character Volcano Chaparrastique, featured in a dance number, celebrating the ring of fire. Volcano Chaparrastique trembles and shakes and is accompanied by ominous rattles and pounding of drums.
So what exactly are Cadejos? They are magical dogs that live inside a volcano, represented by actors with jingling bells strapped to their wrists and ankles. Karen Morales plays the Grandmother, who tells Rosita a reassuring ghost story to calm her to sleep. Grandmother describes Cadejos as resembling wolf-like creatures but they are not wolves. Cadejos move with grace like a deer, but are not deer. “They eat the seeds of morning glories, whose beautiful flowers that cover the volcanoes and look like little bells. The people who live in the villages on the hills of the volcano love the cadejos.” The villagers believe the cadejos are the grandchildren of the volcanoes, who protect people from danger. “When people of the volcanoes travel, there is always a cadejo with them,” Grandmother tells Rosita.
So what is the purpose of the stories about the Cadejo? Allegedly, when God saw all the suffering that human face daily, a white dog was created, with glowing red eyes, representing Good, to protect human beings. But the Devil got jealous and a big black dog had to be created to represent evil. The black dog’s eyes glow like burning coal, or lava, to hypnotize victims to steal their souls. Allegedly, a fight breaks out between Good and Evil in a fight for the soul. Regardless of the origin of the Cadejo, the story inspires children to not wander alone in the woods at night. And let’s face it: During the diaspora, as Salvadorans emigrated from El Salvador because of civil unrest or war, the travelers needed protection.
Volcanoes – Tales from El Salvador
closes October 22, 2016
Details and tickets
The stage direction by Gustavo Ott is impressive in its seamless transitions from one legend to the next. For example, without a curtain or lighting break, Rosita’s bed in the first scene breaks apart and is moved to DSR (down-stage-right) for a scene with Raúl, her brother in America. Rosita and Raúl each play the “Capirucho Challenge”, a traditional Salvadoran game, in which the player has to catch a wooden ball on the end of a stick. The game unites them in the same culture when living miles apart. The myth about the “battle for Don Tonio’s soul” is interwoven, conducted by the god Kizin played by Karen Morales, and the battle for the soul of Don Tonio, played by Chema Pineda-Fernández.
Poverty has humiliated Don Tonio to such an extent that he is ready to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for three wishes. He wishes for a beautiful, young wife. He wishes for many friends, all the audience members. And he wishes to own all the fertile land around the volcanoes. He gets his wishes until he fully realizes he has lost his soul. You have to see the show to experience what he has to go through to get his soul back. He loses everything but will he ever get his soul back? It’s an eternal battle.
Kudos for the staging of the volcanic eruption. It’s beautiful in the way it illustrates how a crisis, such as a natural disaster unites people. A gossamer, transparent red fabric is thrown out over the audience. It represents how the lava flow envelops all of them, seated in the center section. Does Don Tonio have to lose everything to regain his soul?
There’s lots of singing, dancing and celebration at the end. But I enjoyed the audience word guessing game at the beginning. It seems an attempt to teach the audience to be bilingual and share the word-of-mouth folk story about the cadajos, embellished by grandparents and handed down from generation to generation.
This poetic dramatic piece that opens with howling cadejos transforms and ends with a rousing clap-along celebration of life. The audience joins in with the lively piped-in music, as they did on Sunday afternoon when I saw the show, until the enthusiastic rhythmic, audience clapping flared up into applause.
Volcanes-Cuentos de El Salvador/Volcanoes-Tales From El Salvador
A world premiere
By Cornelia Cody
Commissioned by GALA Hispanic Theatre
Directed by Gustavo Ott
Produced by GALita, a GALA program for the
the entire family
A bilingual production at the GALA Hispanic Theatre
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Volcanes-Cuentos de El Salvador/Volcanoes-Folk Tales of El Salvador, by Cornelia Cody. Directed by Gustavo Ott.
El Elena/The Cast (in alphabetical order) Featuring: actor Delbis Cardona as Raúl, Cadejo 2, Brother 1, Traveler, and Volcano Tecapa./ Roberto Colmenares as Judge Just, Immigration Judge, Brother 2, and Volcano Chaparrastique./ Karen Morales as Grandmother, Soldier 2, Manager and Kizin, Tonio’s Wife./ Chema Pineda-Fernández as Cadejo 1, Scoundrel, and Don Tonio/ Melissa Strova Valancia as the Child, Rosa, Soldier 1.
Personal De Producción/Production Staff: Director: Gustavo Ott. Scenic Designer: Brian Gillick. Lighting Designer: Mary Keegan. Sound Designer: William D’Eugenio. Costume & Properties Designer: Alicia Tessari. Conga Drum Painter: Lazaro Batista. Stage Manager: Tsaitami Duchicela. Carpenters: Marcos Armenteros, Devin Mahoney. Sound Operator: April Kelli Sturdivant. Master Electricians: Alex Keen, James Neylor. Electricians: Stefanie DeHart, Chris Foote, Deion Ruhuic, Will Voorhees. Technical Director: Reuben Rosenthal. Production Manager: Lena Salins. Producer: Hugo Medrano.