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La Criatura Theatre Company – Santiago, Chile

Fort Worth Fringe Festival

Performed by: Cristian Lopez
Director: Manuel Ortiz
Assistant Director: Fabian Saez
Music: Jaime Mora
Production: Andrea Vera

Reviewed Performance: 9/8/2018

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

True. Powerful and moving, instructional, funny, human, not-to-be-missed. Resonant, emotional, immersive theatre. Those are the soundbite takeaways from an extraordinary 55 minutes of theatre that ranges from true-life atrocities to childhood dreams at first realized, then taken away to be replaced with a burning desire to see change. To be at the forefront of that change. It’s about courage, innocence, and the ability to transform the viewer via a riveting performance enhanced by super-titles, music, three canisters of salt, and an astonishing amount of soccer jerseys. “Pichanga” will remind you of the power of theatre, and its continuing relevance in today’s distracted society.

The solo performer, Cristian Lopez is on stage practicing soccer moves as the audience enters. This is his show through and through. Not only is this remarkable young man the performer, he is also the subject of this story. This is documentary theatre at its finest. Pichanga is the name given to soccer matches that kids play on makeshift fields in the poorer neighborhoods of Chile, and soccer is the through line for this piece. Cristian and his production team are here on a rare Performing Arts Visa to tell us his story of growing up like many kids born in 1990 Chile – possessed of the dream of being a soccer star making a goal in front of a full stadium. They were the products of the hope engendered in that country as the brutal Pinochet dictatorship ended. Nicknamed “The Fearless Generation” by their parents, who had plenty to be afraid of, Cristian’s generation was thought to be the ones that would enter a world of wonderful wealth and possibility. That turned out not to be the case.

Cristian first takes us through his personal history – his great grandfather was the harbor master for the boat that brought the first soccer balls to Chile. His grandfather was shot to death on a soccer field near Cristian’s home during the purges of the Pinochet regime. His father turned out to be an angry man who harmed his family and blunted his son’s dreams. Through it all, Cristian plays soccer with his friends, whom he brings to life in a fun segment portraying himself and three of his friends trying to get his soccer ball back from a meanspirited “ball popper” neighbor. “If you don’t give our ball back so we can practice and become famous soccer players, we’ll become drug addicts on the corner!” Cristian as his younger self warns. Cristian, like every other child in Chile, knows that soccer is the way out of the barrio.

His dreams start out on track – he is a star forward for his grade school soccer team. But slowly, Cristian is moved back on the field from forward to goalie. His personal life mirrors this slow fade backwards as well. His father becomes abusive, his family divided, and the hopefulness for his generation fades into poverty and corruption. Cristian does not stop fighting however, for new dreams. He becomes a student organizer, marching with thousands of other students demanding better public education. He continues the fight for his dreams of a better life not only for his “Fearless Generation” via the theatre and this piece, but also for his precious young daughter, who “was born without fear.”

Cristian states that they have “changed the ending of this play many times.” It is evolving as he does, indeed as the world does. As a performer, he exudes brilliant energy and passion. His physical movement is matched by the intensity of his emotion – joy, rage, dismay, compassion, and determination all have powerful moments in his layered performance. Pichanga is performed in Spanish with supertitles in English above the stage, but by the time the show is half-way through you find yourself simply watching him, no longer needing the translation as this performer is a master of conveying true, connecting emotion.

The director, Manuel Ortiz has created a masterful piece of theatre, and directed his biographical star adroitly. The sound and music by Jaime Mora – broadcasting news events, music and soccer matches – along with dramatic lights and carefully chosen props create an immersive performance. There’s a clever use of salt. Its use resonated beyond its utility, reflecting a deeper connection to our salty sweat, tears and blood, those ties that bind us as human. Whimsical, poignant use of soccer jerseys to represent people, the passage of time, and to stand in for makeshift soccer goals was another highlight.

As an audience member you are taken on an impactful, memorable journey. As the announcers on the pitch say; “Scooooooore!” for Cristian Lopez and “Pichanga”. Kudos also to Ft. Worth Fringe Festival and Executive Director Dennis Yslas for finding this piece and bringing it to our area.

This was the third season for the Texas Nonprofit Theatres, Inc to produce the Fort Worth Fringe Festival. It drew double the crowds from last year and for good reason. The picks for this third season were diverse, entertaining and moving. It filled the mandate to give a stage to performers and pieces that would not otherwise find a space to be heard. The prices for tickets and pass options (5,7,10 or all shows) was reasonable, and they’ve found a great venue in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Both the well-equipped black box Sanders Theatre and the bare-bones Vault proved to be wonderful theatrical venues. There was the bonus of wonderful art in the galleries surrounding these theatres as part of Fort Worth Gallery Night. The 4th annual Fort Worth Fringe Festival is in the works, and likely will again be staged the weekend after Labor Day.

PICHANGA can be seen in the following cities on the following dates:
World Stage Theatre Company -
308 Studio
308 S Lansing Ave, Tulsa, OK 74120

Friday, Sep. 14th 7pm
Saturday, Sep. 15th 7pm

Thursday Sep. 27th at Masonic Temple in Dubuque @ 7:30

The Road Less Traveled Community Theatre Company -
Saturday Sep. 29 @ 7:30 pm
Sunday Sep. 30 at 2:30 pm