Desde El Puente: Musical Edition
Finding Your Voice at Raíces Theater Company
By ANTHONY CHASE
In this season of short plays, Raíces Theater Company’s “Desde el Puente: Musical Edition” is special for its focus on Latin stories, its use of music, and for its use of local writers and composers, some of whom are first time theater artists. In recent years we have seen the fiction that local writing cannot attract audiences exploded. We have also seen that there are untapped audiences in the diversity of our city and an abundance of stories that need to be told.
The tight-knit Raíces group, which is actually family driven by that Gomez, Maggiolo, Pérez crew, and affiliates, has clearly built up the momentum of a theatrical mission. The little musicals fluctuate happily between styles, between comedy and serious drama, and between English and Spanish.
The familial underpinnings of the company are evident in the opening musical of the night, “El Closet” with book by Maria Pérez- Gómez, music by Adrian Güadalupe, and lyrics by both. Here, a mother (Victoria Pérez) who is obliged to go on trips for business comforts her daughter (Alexia Guzmán) by telling her the fanciful tale of colorful talking animals who live in her bedroom closet in the family home.
Señor Rooster is played by Alejandro Gómez, Señorita Coqui (the frog) is played by Lissette DeJesús, Señor Cerdito (the pig) is played by Rolando E. Gomez, and Señora Brisa (the wind) is played by Maria Pérez- Gómez. This group embarks on joyful adventures set to music, before mother retreats, having empowered her daughter with these fictional friends.
In addition to setting a familial tone, this little jewel of a musical also asserts the power of storytelling and theater to strengthen, sustain, and support us. This will become a theme of the entire evening, seen through specifically Latin voices.
An activist undertone sometimes becomes delightfully overt, building up to the final play of the evening, Don Pedro y Yo, book by Rolando M. Gómez, Maria Pérez- Gómez, and Victoria Pérez, with music and lyrics by Alejandro Gómez, Rolando E. Gómez, Jose Rafael López Figueroa and Victoria Pérez. The “Don Pedro” of the title is Pedro Albizu Campos, president and spokesperson of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party from 1930 until he died in 1965, who spent twenty-six years in prison for attempting to overthrow the United States government in Puerto Rico. The short musical chronicles the man’s struggles on behalf of the island.
Lissette DeJesús’ play, “Es Mi Voz” (It’s My Voice) takes us from the closet of the first play to a new sort of closet. Here, lesbian songwriter “Juanita,” played by DeJesús, expresses herself through songs that are performed publically by her lover, Amelia, played by Alexia Guzmán. Set a generation or two ago, Juanita feels betrayed when Amelia announces her intention to marry her boyfriend, as protection for her career. While the theme and its execution are old-fashioned, the motivating concept, “Es Mi Voz,” provides a powerful variation on the theme of the evening, that we all need to tell our stories, and would be worthy of further development. We all need to be able to express our own truths.
“Padrinos de Boda,” or “godparents of the wedding,” by Anthony Alocer, is not so much a play as a jubilant explanation of Latin wedding tradition as it is explained to the Anglo groom as his marriage to his Latina bride approaches. One has little need to wonder what inspired this endearing sketch by Señor Alcocer, a newlywed himself, having recently married actor/director Kate LoConti.
“Plena Cautiva” with the double meaning of its title, meaning both fully trapped and captivated or enthralled, shows us a musical band of prisoners, finding freedom and self-expression through music. The banter, entirely in Spanish, is playful and comical, until the outburst of musical joy is abruptly cut off by the reality of prison life. The show is written by Dewel Pérez.
For many, the highlight of this festival of musical morsels will be the comedy. A highlight of this is assuredly Llego La Hora (The Time Has Come), Parts I and II, which end the first act and start the second. In this spoof of Spanish language television by María Pérez-Gómez and Victoria Pérez, using songs by various artists, we become the studio audience in a variation on “The Dating Game,” wherein a bachelorette must choose bachelor number one, two, or three. The three odious contestants are hilariously played by Rolando E. Gómez as a self-absorbed Spaniard; Steve Brachmann as a comically inept Dominican; and Alejandro Gómez as oversexed “Lucho Lengua.” Victoria Pérez is the host of the show, and scores huge laughs with her parodies of game show patter and live commercials for health-destroying products. Smirna Mercedes plays the bachelorette who mistakenly thinks she’s appearing in a talent contest.
In “Just in Time” with book by Alejandro Gómez, music and lyrics by Daniel Williams, and orchestration and arrangement by Kevin Doyle, two friends played by Steve Brachman and Alejandro Gómez confront the change in their relationship caused by changes in the directions of their lives. Again, the subject matter is an intriguing choice for a musical and the acting is excellent.
In “Good Night Puto” with book by Alexia Guzmán, music and lyrics by Blaise Mercedes, women rally around a girlfriend whose boyfriend is a bona fide asshole. The word “Puto” of the title has no English equivalent, but is slightly worse than the word I have just used. This little tale of women exerting control over their lives is highly amusing and well performed.
“Sin Palabras” (Speechless) with book by Victoria Pérez, and music by Lilliangina Quiñones with lyrics by both, shows us the breakup of a couple in the wake of tragedy as they struggle to express their candid feelings. As with “Es Mi Voz” the subject matter is a provocative choice for a musical. In musicals, song steps in when mere words can no longer contain our thoughts and feelings.
If I have not mentioned directors, it is only because direction is difficult to assess in a festival of numerous short works. There is excellent coordination as the evening moves seamlessly from play to play. The pacing is excellent and the evening very engaging. This is due, partly to the fine ensemble of actors, partly to fine work by numerous writers and composer and the musical director, Kevin Doyle, and most certainly because of directors Victoria Pérez, Maria Pérez- Gómez, Lissette DeJesús, and Ingrid Córdova.