Voces de Vivo: Voces de la Cultura Latina

Four very different short dramas that share a similar sense of wonder about life

Arts Review

Voces de Vivo: Voces de la Cultura Latina

Dougherty Arts Center Theatre, through Aug. 24

Running time: 2 hr, 35 min

A young woman who sees trees as teachers. An older woman who hears the voice of Jesus when she's at church. A hope that endures a half-century. A love that transcends death and rebirth.

The four stories that make up Voces de Vivo: Voces de la Cultura Latina are so distinctive in character, theme, and voice that they might not seem to share any connection beyond the fact that all were penned by members of Teatro Vivo. And yet running through all of these very different short dramatic works is a thread of wonder about life. Moments bring to light some way in which we are all connected – perhaps to one another, perhaps to forces beyond our reasoning – and the all-encompassing embrace of it inspires awe.

At times the thread is easy to spot, as in "Munti," Natalie Goodnow's performance piece. As Goodnow describes to us her fascination with trees and the lessons she has taken from them in high school, in college, and in her life beyond graduation (bloom where you're planted; challenge accepted notions; civilizations that cut down their trees die), her face is alight with the amazement of discovery. She is seeing truths about the world for the first time, and their profundity dazzles her so thoroughly that we cannot miss her wonderment.

At times the thread is harder to see for the piece's character and plot, as in Celeste Guzman Mendoza's "Adela's Altar," where the titular figure's ongoing dialogue with the son of God puts her at odds with her daughter, the church staff, and, well, pretty much everyone. Adela is one of those larger-than-life figures, big of voice and bursting with attitude, who demands our attention, and when Yesenia Garcia, gussied up in a heavily padded suit and fiery red pageboy, flutters about the stage, compulsively spraying Fantastik, chomping on Church's fried chicken, and chatting away at Jesus (whose side of the conversation we never hear, alas), it's easy to get caught up in Adela's melodramatic confrontations and wonder what will become of her. But in the piece is also an honest appreciation of the personal connection to God that Adela seems to have and a sense of how wondrous that must be.

In "Las Amandas," by Michael Mares Mendoza, the thread takes the lovely form of 200 yellow parakeets, an image described for us by the narrator, who relates in lyrical prose the history of a woman whose true love abandoned her and yet who spent 50 years touching his photograph every night and hoping for his return. Over the years, as she reared their children by herself, she began acquiring parakeets to comfort her, eventually taking in 200. As the piece is presented as a reading, we never see any birds, but the combination of Mendoza's writing, the impassioned delivery of Mario Ramirez, and soulful musical support by the playwright on guitar helps us envision this astonishing extravagance of feathers, a sunny, brilliant embodiment of hope.

In "2 Souls & a Promise," by Artistic Director Rupert Reyes, the thread is woven into a vow between two lovers who believe their spirits will pass into new bodies after death. They promise to look for each other in their next lives, and after one dies unexpectedly, the other eventually finds himself face to face with his beloved's reborn soul, though not in the way he imagined. Reyes' fable is a romantic fantasy that challenges our assumptions about romance; love takes many forms, it tells us, and true love must be able to see beyond the physical. It's a familiar lesson but is tenderly replayed by an enthusiastic and committed cast.

By the time this last thread is tied off, we have journeyed across borders and generations, borne by music and poetry and drama. The voices along the way have been diverse, but they have joined in a chorus that sings: "Pay attention to all that surrounds us. Wonders abide everywhere."

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Voces de Vivo: Voces de la Cultura Latina, Teatro Vivo, Rupert Reyes, Natalie Goodwin, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Michael Mares Mendoza

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