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Reviving Teatro Campesino

Magical Realism Descends on Theatre X

It's not just the acting; it's the acto. The playwriting form called acto is based on theories put forth by Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino and is firmly rooted in social commentary; it is on these principles that the multi-play show "Almas" is based.

The form was also the impetus for the show's very existence itself. The writers of "Saco Mucho a Esquela," "Missing Ingredients" and "La Crisis" - Sophia Breyer, Elizabeth Kay Otero, and Elsa Menendez-Senechal - were all participants in "one of the first Chicano theater classes at UNM," according to the program notes.

Inspiration from the works and theories of Valdez combined with a desire to explore their shared culture, Sabina Zu§°ga-Varela jumped on board as director and the result is "Almas."

For those attending, check expectations at the door, for you're entering a different realm - one in which the native language is Spanglish and the atmosphere is overcast with touches of - pardon the clichÇd generalization - magical realism.

Things kick off mystically with a pair of poetic figures called Isis and Father Tree of Life but switches rapidly into the story of just another day at school for a bunch of kids. This is "Saco Mucho a Esquela," a double-edged razor of a short play that belies a seriousness beneath the extremely funny antics in a mixed-race classroom.

"Missing Ingredients," the second work, is a relatively straightforward telling of a contemporary story. Good chemistry and dialogue have friends Bernadette and Martin chatting over what is certainly similar to cultural exploration in which the "Almas" playwrights became interested.

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At the polar end of the dramatic structure scale is "La Crisis," an interesting - if too short - vignette regarding the multiple identities required of modern woman. This one's a bit less focused on questions of racial identity and much heavier on the gender identity. It's also funnier than described here.

The second half of "Almas" is given over to "BernabÇ," a work penned by Valdez.

This is a one-acter that will surely be distinctive to the average theatergoer.

"BernabÇ" demonstrates the juxtaposition of certain well-worn aspects of the theater tradition - the dysfunctional family, the disputably crazy main character - with the symbolism and mysticism so often associated with narratives from Latino cultures.

As most of the title character's fellow small-town folks trouble themselves over land struggles and money, BernabÇ consorts with the anthropomorphizations of a militant Earth and swaggering Moon. It all ends so bittersweet . . .

Valdez's piece makes for a great closer for the show, with its pastiche of two languages.

Throughout "BernabÇ," the Spanglish spoken by man and heavenly body alike flies fast and furious, proving itself to be the native tongue of the cosmos as well.

"Almas" is running at Theater X until Sept. 29 and picks up again Oct. 3-6. For tickets or more information, call 277-4569, 851-5050 or visit

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