Another top-notch offering for young audiences began this past weekend: Blancaflor, the latest in the GALita series of theatre for children.
GAlita is the arm of GALA Hispanic Theatre that caters to the younger set, and has been doing so since 1980, believe it or not. (In this city of scores of theatre companies, GALA is one of our oldest; and Hugo Medrano, its Producing Artistic Director, is the longest-serving troupe leader.)
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety,” Mr. Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, a sentiment I here apply to GALA, whose Blancaflor is fresh as a daisy.
Commissioned by GALA from Cecilia Cackley, a DC-based playwright/puppeteer, and based on a Spanish fairy tale, Blancaflor refreshingly pushes against many of the less appealing aspects one finds in stuff aimed at kids.
Sure, it focuses on royalty, as so many tales for tots do. At play’s start, we meet a young, unnamed Prince whose King Dad becomes seriously ill. Searching the kingdom for anything that will reverse this dire health crisis, the Prince strikes a deal with an ominous voice which promises health to the King in exchange for the Prince becoming consigned to the land of shadows, or some similarly grim-sounding netherworld.
Ominous voice, however, gives Prince an out: accomplish three seemingly impossible tasks, and he will instead get to marry one of the voice’s daughters.
closes October 21, 2017
Details and tickets
Without giving away the plot’s resolution, let me relate to you the pleasing news that the hero of our story is not the little Prince, but, rather, the title character; and how refreshing it is (after all, at least half the audience will be young women) to have the boy as the one dependent on the (impressive) capabilities of a member of the opposite sex.
At risk of spoiling, I will point out that those capabilities could fairly be described as magical. Well, I guess it’s not really spoiling: the subtitle is “La Niña Maga,” and, before the show began, a greeter of sorts had asked my kids after we were seated whether they believed in magic. (She pointed to their cousin Jack and observed that he did.)
As the play began, the interactive component continued — and, boy, did it. The Prince was almost immediately asking the audience for advice; and it was forthcoming. This felt to me to be the most audaciously inviting instance of audience response I’ve seen; most often, it’s more constrained.
I almost worried that it had careened out of control, as one guy in the front row (to quote Blanche DuBois, “My, what lung-power!”) chimed in perhaps a bit too zealously, a bit too often, but an adept cast kept things on track with impressive aplomb.
I also wondered, initially, about the bilingual aspect of the show. My kids are routinely exposed to Spanish, and have pidgin familiarity, and that’s more than me.
As an initial expositional speech was entirely in Spanish, it was apparent that not everything would be translated, and I was worried that the toggle between languages would exclude us from fully appreciating the show.
I worried for naught. I can’t believe how fully satisfying the show was for us English-onlys, and I imagine those without English would feel the same. What a tribute that fact is to the story-telling of Director Gustavo Ott and his team.
Karen Romero gives us an enchanting hero, one who isn’t afraid to display a little ‘tude toward the dude, when he’s not keeping up.
Adrián Iglesias is the hardest-working Prince on 14th Street. He’s on for practically the whole show, deftly navigated the audience response, and was a thoroughly charming Prince.
Hilary Kacser is also on almost constantly, providing live guitar accompaniment when she isn’t playing the Queen (The Prince’s Mom), which she does with high style and wit. At the performance we saw, she had to deal with a crying child on its way to the lobby. The manner in which she matched her text to the unexpected intrusion was one of those blissful improvisations that actors and audiences treasure.
Delbis Cardona and Karen Morales fill out the cast as Shepherd and Sheep, as well as many folks the Prince meets along the way, and they are terrific. If the rest of the cast wasn’t on the same level of excellence, Cardona’s Shepherd would have stolen the show with a delightful turn early on, and both Cardona and Morales give cross-species performances, as they charmingly give life to animals as well as people.
The design is splendid. Each component impressed at different times.
The costumes, designed by Alicia Tessari (who also designed properties), play elegantly against Jonathan Dahm Robertson’s handsome set. Alex Keen’s top-notch lighting design creates mood and delineates place masterfully and gorgeously.
Director Ott and team keep adding texture to the show as it goes along. Music and dance are delightfully employed from the jump. Toward the end, a chase scene is accomplished with shadow puppets. (Sound Designer April Kelli Sturdivant’s contribution to that sequence is a treat.)
A bit earlier, the production employed that old standby of taking a long strip of cloth and billowing it to indicate a river. However, through lighting, projections, and a surprising foray into the audience, the effect is thoroughly revitalized.
The resolution was touching — and gentle. Despite the high stakes involved in the Prince’s predicament, the ominous voice relents rather than taking an Ursula-style scorched earth approach as he loses control of the situation.
And, the fact that one father — his — is unseen and the other father — hers — is only heard, while the Queen is a fully-experienced character, adds to the sense of Blancaflor as a nicely empowering tale for the girls among its young audience.
The only fault I can find with Blancaflor is the brevity of its run; you have only two more weeks to catch this wonderful show, which ought to have every seat in the theatre filled.
Blancaflor: The Girl Wizard is a gentle, inventive fairy tale, one that focuses on a female hero, and one that fulfills GALA’s stated credo, “GALA: Where Language is a Bridge.”
And I can’t think of a better time for such a mission, or a better vehicle than Blancaflor.
Blancaflor: La Niña Maga (Blancaflor: The Girl Wizard) by Cecilia Cackley. Directed by Gustavo Ott. Featuring Delbis Cardona, Adrián Iglesias, Hilary Kacser, Karen Morales, and Karen Romero. Scenic Design: Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Light Design: Alex Keen. Sound Design: April Kelli Sturdivant. Costume & Properties Design: Alicia Tessari. Stage Manager: Tsaitami Duchicela. Producer: Abel Lopez. Produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre. Reviewed by Christopher Henley.
[For the record, I worked once at WSC Avant Bard with Jonathan Dahm Robertson, several times with Alex Keen]