THE MAGIC RAINFOREST: AN AMAZON JOURNEYby José Cruz González
Cara Mia Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Colangelo and David Lozano
Scenic Design – Mark Pearson and Jessie Zarazaga
Lighting Design – Linda Blase
Costume/Properties/Puppet Design – Frida Espinosa-Müller
Original Music – Fabricio Farfán
Fight Choreography – Jeffrey Colangelo
Stage Management – Ariana Cook
Ricco Fajardo – Aki
Joe Chapa – Wakote/Sloth
Dean Wray – Pereira
Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso – Estrela/Pira/Ensemble
Frida Espinsosa-Müller – Toucan/Ensemble
Ivan Jasso – Mauricio
Ana Gonzalez – Turtle/Ensemble
Natalia Dubrov – Ensemble
Jonah Gutierrez – Ensemble
Reviewed Performance: 5/30/2014
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Having the world premiere at the Kennedy Center in 2000, Cara Mia Theatre Co.’s regional premiere presents the world of the play through highly physical theatre presentation, puppets, masks, and the use of long silks, fabrics and everyday objects to create most everything in the forest. Live music enhances the magic and aura of the land and its people.
Aki is a young boy, living by the river with his family. Though he believes it’s only a story, he actually is the child of a mortal and a magical Encantado. When the Fire Demon, always recognized by smoke in the distance, encroaches on the village in the name of Progress, Aki heads off to fight the enemy as a warrior rather than accepting his inborn ability to be a shaman for his people.
José Cruz González’ play is fun, fast-paced and speaks of the horrors of rainforest desecration, but only mildly. I wished for more emphasis on the environment issues of the rainforest but, being a show for all ages, the play works on an imaginative level and then readily offers open doors for more discussion afterward.
Co-Directors, David Lozano and Jeffrey Colangelo, blend their gifts to present a play brimming with colorful visions, amazing worlds and enchanted peoples, animals and even vegetables! Though Cara Mia’s ensemble is adept at physical theatre and kinetic productions, Colangelo layers their ability with intricate movement and detailed choreography to transport the audience into the fantastical world of the Amazon.
Ethereal, earthy sounds of pan flute, guitar, violin and voices play live behind the proscenium stage curtain for preshow and then throughout the play. Composer-musician Fabricio Farfán is from Perú and his original music, soundscapes and visceral vocals float across the stage just as the early morning fog drifts through the rainforest, supporting the many cries, growls and sounds of the nearby animals. Just as the audience adjusts to the rainforest’s ambience, Farfán’s piercing, distressed flute shatters the beauty with the metallic, mechanical noise of the machines.
In collaboration with Colangelo’s Prism Co., members of Cara Mia Theatre Co. become a mesmerizing, cohesive ensemble, moving gracefully, running intently or maneuvering set pieces, silks, fabrics, and puppets like a well-oiled machine in telling the tale of a young boy who battles both his own demons and the physical one intruding on his world. While every actor onstage, whether speaking or not, gives their all and accomplishes the seemingly impossible, the real stars are the stage designs of set, lighting, costume and puppetry.
As the proscenium curtain opens, sculptural wooden poles are seen, piled upward, looking at first glance like a ship’s mast. As dark green and gold fabric becomes draped over the poles, Jessie Zarazaga and Mark Pearson’s rainforest begins to appear. Curtains of brightly-colored fabric strips slowly lower from above, enclosing the large staging area into a more intimate setting; the actors could hide behind them, shadow across them or move through them like running through huge tropical plants.
Linda Blase filters sharp-angled, criss-cross lighting through the fog, side-lights for dramatic effect and dims other areas of the stage to spotlight one during reflective and discovery moments. Her effects shimmer across the water silks, hold mysteries in the dimness and startle as the Fire Demon travels across the land. Blending with the puppetry, the demon’s and jaguar’s eyes glow, adding another layer of mystery and enchantment. Aki’s deceased grandparents are visualized by small lanterns hung on the end of bamboo poles, encircling him like Tinker Bell.
Frida Espinosa-Müller took on a monumental task of designing costume, properties and puppetry for The Magic Rainforest. Knowingly, she leaves costumes as minimally designed and hued as possible, letting the rainforest’s colors take precedence. Wearing draw-string pants and various tops of muslin-beige, all barefoot, the differences between the villagers and the “demons” are visually highlighted by vest, button-down shirt, belts and shoes or boots. Those with other worldly qualities are distinguished by colorful fabric strips tied on legs or arms, jewelry or paper crown. Clever use of shiny red and gold double pompoms, coming from corners, cracks and through the curtain, represents the encroaching fire.
I believe I heard that Espinosa-Müller had never designed puppetry before. If that is true, she has a new career ahead of her as the puppetry, whether hand-held or body-encompassing, are amazing and delightful. Animals of all types are presented throughout the forest - frog, turtle, macaw, snake, toucan, sloth – but my favorite puppets have to be The Noisy Vegetables. Singing yam, squash and potatoes are hilarious, and the voices perfect for each. Both the huge Fire Demon and jaguar mask heads are intricately detailed, the jaguar’s face both angry and sad at the loss of his home, its green eyes glowing in the shadows. The Fire Demon’s last appearance is enough to stay in the minds of the children in the audience – maybe an intended gesture.
Staging The Magic Rainforest is a combination of well-timed, rapid entrances, exits, set changes, and action. David Lozano placed Jeffrey Colangelo in charge of the graceful, precision silk movement and fight choreography. Yards of fabric effortlessly slide across the floor, becoming river, clouds, pink dolphins, gown, cape, and other pieces, then disappear just as effortlessly. A rather harrowing, slow-motion fight scene occurs between the “destruction foreman” and Aki far downstage, adding another layer of danger to the beautiful, fight ballet.
Of the lead characters, village shaman Wakote sings to invite all to his village home and Joe Chapa uses a loving, takeoff on Rafiki’s entrance in The Lion King. Uncle to Aki, Wakote attempts to help him understand his ancestral obligations and Chapa’s physicality and stance make him an appropriate leader. But his comedic portrayal of the sleepy Sloth is a highlight of the play. Wearing the puppet, its head is directly above Chapa’s, and his facial expression matches Sloth to perfectly represent the animal’s demeanor.
Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso plays a myriad of roles - Aki’s mortal mother Pira, and the star maiden Estrella that saves Aki to battle the demon one more time. However, the puppet again steals the show, and her Squash voice is gloriously funny and sassy, the singing having the audience laughing each time.
Ana Gonzalez has the fun of two memorable puppet characters in which to display her talents. Turtle is a full-body puppet, much like Sloth, and to see her portray the slow-moving tortoise, disappearing back into its cleverly-designed shell or snapping at food, is a true delight. Her bouncy, singing Yam is another one of the Noisy Vegetables I could watch again and again.
I cannot mention Squash and Yam without also mentioning the third member of the singing vegetable trio, that of Potato Plant played by Jonah Gutierrez. Mainly a sock puppet, he too makes the audience laugh with enjoyment, his potatoes dancing around on his sock arm (oh my!).
Dean Wray portrays Pereira, the outsider to the rainforest and foreman of its destruction. Defiant to his cause at any cost, Pereira tells his scout/assistant, Paxke, “We live in a world of science, reason, power and wealth”, all in the name of Progress. Wray’s angry voice makes the birds of the forest take flight and shows great physical dexterity in his fight sequence with Ricco Fajardo (as Aki). His high-beam eye patch is a genius pairing of costume and lighting and effectively eerie.
Aki’s father is Paxke, and though a short role, Ivan Jasso plays him with the majestic quality of a mystical leader. His Mauricio, the now “civilized” native assistant to Pereira, better displays Jasso’s acting talent and presents the antagonist who has a change of heart in the story. Mauricio reminds me of the kind of character that always tries to do the right thing at the right time but fails miserly at both. Jasso’s height could make him an imposing figure onstage, but his portrayal of the meek Mauricio leads to funny and endearing moments as he attempts to both appease the foreman and help the rainforest people. He too has great physical dexterity as he careens around the set.
Ricco Fajardo plays a much younger person than himself with the perfect amount of innocence and determination Aki possesses. I immediately forgot the actor’s age and got caught up in this young boy’s journey into manhood to save his home. Fajardo is a wonderfully physical actor, deftly jumping over, through and around the long silks and fighting Pereira with acrobatic skill. The backwards, slow motion, standing flip onto Wray is no less skilled than a professional. I liked that Fajardo didn’t rely on a childish voice to portray Aki’s age; his energetic countenance and facial expressions nicely reflect the boy’s youthful exuberance and desire.
A note for the entire ensemble – the space at the Latino Cultural Arts Center is a mid-sized performance hall with a cavernous ceiling and side coves that could easily swallow actors’ voices. Except when using amplification for special effects, the actors in this production are not body-miked and no microphones hang from the stage grid. Every actor knows how to project and each could be heard perfectly, even when behind set pieces or offstage. I cannot count the times I’ve been to small, intimate theatre spaces and cannot hear the actors. It’s a basic skill all should possess and I invite actors to come take notes on the way it’s supposed to be done.
Enchanting theatre magic flows across the stage in this production of The Magic Rainforest: An Amazon Journey, charming the audience from beginning to end. Do not dismiss the play as being only for children. The wonderment is there for all and a downloadable study guide for kids can lead to meaningful family discussions - coloring the toucan “puzzle” looks inviting! The play’s visuals, story and message are ageless and the enjoyment and pleasure it can bring is timeless.
Cara Mía Theatre Co.
at Latino Cultural Arts Center
2600 Live Oak Street
Dallas, TX 75204
Limited run through June 8th
Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday – Sunday at 3:00 pm
Ticket prices are $20.00 for Priority which allows you to choose your seats first. Arrive 20 minutes before curtain time. Regular tickets are $15.00, student/senior/veteran $12.00, and children 12 under $5.00. Groups of 10 or more are $10.00 each and $5.00 for students/children.
***Thursday, June 5th is Discount Night - Priority seating $15.00, regular seating $10.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.caramiatheatre.org or call them at 214-506-0706.