Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Sun Serpent—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland


Photo credit: ©2015 Jenny Bunce
A Bloody History Lesson

This visually entertaining, history lesson is written by José Cruz González and directed by Rachel Bowditch and Andrés Alcalá.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St., in the Cultural Center through October 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-4480.

See if you can guess which country was formed after a “superior” race conquered their land, slaughtered the leaders and many of the natives (after having been given a friendly welcome), brought diseases which wiped out many of their people, forced them to abandon their language and religion and accept that of the conquering race, and did it all in the name of that great god, Greed (of land & gold).  If you guessed Mexico, you would be right.  But it’s a bit of a trick question because, except for the outright, overt slaughter of the innocents (we “humanely” put them on reservations instead) this description would fit the Europeans who settled America, too (and duplicated by many other nations, as well)!

But, I digress, this story, visually stunning, is about how the Aztecs were conquered by invading Spain, on the search for more land and gold, who were the Conquistadors under Cortes’ leadership.  What was once a rich country under Aztec leadership, now they had became slaves under foreign rule and much of their heritage was hidden or lost.  They were assimilated into what is now Mexico.  (But, from examples of many of the Mexicans migrating to the U. S., it seems that some of the population is still seeking a better way of life for its people.)

The story is mainly told through two brothers, Tlememe (Andrés Alcalá), the older and more practical of the two and Anáhuac (Sam Burns), naive and a bit of a dreamer.  Their Grandmother (Nelda Reyes), the keeper of the oral history of their people and matriarch of the family, tries to hold on to the ways of their ancestors.  But when the boats, with the “floating clouds,” invade their land, their lives will never be the same.  The older brother chooses to join the soldiers as a “sword carrier,” but the younger one still wishes to be a “sky dancer” and hold on to the old ways.

Soon war separates these two, destroys their village and the younger one is forced to fend for himself in the jungle.  Meanwhile, Cortez (Alcalá, again), has managed to find his way to their capital, the “City of Dreams” and, through an interpreter (Reyes, again), meets their leader (Burns, again) and demands gold and that he turn over leadership to him.  I think most people know how that relationship turns out…badly.  And the younger one manages to become an old man (Daniel Valdez, music composer, as well) and is narrating the story, so that something of his people is preserved.

All three stage actors are to be applauded, as they play over 40 characters in this story, and are quite amazing!  How they managed to keep them all straight is a tribute to their talents.  There is also the use of expressive masks (designer, Zarco Guerrero), puppets, shadow images, elaborate costumes (Sarah Marguier), beautiful projections (designer, Adam Larsen), as well as a very, versatile set (designer, John Ellingson) to enhance the tale.  And both the directors, Alcalá and Bowditch, have managed to keep the story coherent in all the chaos that could have ensued.  I take my hat off to the team that created this fantastic array of art, history and unique story-telling.

I recommend this show but, keep in mind, parking is difficult to find, so arriving an hour early is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.