December 5, 2008

“La Pastorela de la Nueva Era” Brings Humor and Hope to the San Diego REP

When the stock market crashed and financial chaos swept America there were plenty of long faces from Wall Street to Main Street.

But Lucifer smiled.

The Prince of Darkness likes chaos, but Teatro Máscara Mágica has a plan. It is inviting San Diego County and Baja California families to enjoy “La Pastorela de la Nueva Era” at the lowest price tickets for a professional theatre in the region.

TMM’s award-winning pastorela is celebrating its 18th anniversary this year and the Mexican-inspired Christmas musical is trendier than ever. Where else would theatre lovers see Michael the Archangel, Lucifer, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Christmas seals and Maxwell Smart share the stage?

Izzi Lucifer with Moloch and Satan. Pictured from left to right: Dave Rivas as Cholo Satan, Joey Molina as Lucifer, Rhys Green as Moloch.

“La Pastorela de la Nueva Era” is the newest twist on the traditional story of the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem to witness the first Christmas. Called to action by Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the shepherds face temptation and danger from evil Lucifer and his nasty minions. The bilingual script is primarily in English with beautiful Christmas carols sung in Spanish.

Written by Max Branscomb and directed by William Virchis, “La Pastorela de la Nueva Era” runs December 18-21 at the Lyceum Space Theater downtown. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and groups of 10 or more, and $7 for children under 12. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18-21. Matinees Dec. 20 and 21 are at 2 p.m. For reservations call (619) 544-1000.

Cast members include some of San Diego’s most popular actors. Joey Molina is Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness. Tim Evans is Soledad the wily hermit. Dave Rivas and Rhys Green are the devils Satan and Moloch. Television star Willie Green plays Michael the Archangel. Marina Inserra, this year’s Miss San Diego’s Outstanding Teen, plays Juanita.

La pastorela is a folk art form that dates back to the beginning of Christianity. During the second century early Christians in hiding acted out the Christmas story to hand it down in the oral tradition. It survived as an underground movement until the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century.

The Spaniards brought it to Mexico in the 1540s and it became that country’s most popular form of theatre. More than 2,500 unique versions of the story are produced south of the border. Almost every city, town and village in Mexico has its own version of the pastorela.

A pastorela is the tale of the shepherd’s journey to Bethlehem to witness the first Christmas. It is the B-plot of the nativity, a journey fraught with temptations, distractions and mortal peril as the devils try to prevent the shepherds from reaching their special destination. It is a traditional morality play full of choices and introspection, but presented with levity, music, beautiful costumes and poetic dialogue. Pastorelas are written entirely in verse, like a Yuletide Dr. Seuss story.

TMM and the Old Globe Theater developed and produced the first English language pastorela in San Diego in 1991 at the Globe. The play appeals to English and Spanish speakers alike. The text is in English and the beautiful Christmas songs are in Spanish.

Branscomb’s devils and angels are masters of disguise who appear throughout the shepherd’s journey as historic and contemporary characters. His pastorelas have inspired theatre companies throughout the Southwest United States to produce their own. Branscomb has written more than 40 pastorelas for companies in Tucson, Los Angeles, San Jose, Bakersfield, Phoenix, Cincinnati and other cities on both sides of the border.

Virchis is a former professor of theatre at Southwestern College. He has directed productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Zoot Suit” and “Let the Eagle Fly,” as well as the national touring production of “Selena Forever.”

Besides his work with Teatro Máscara Mágica, Branscomb is the founder and artistic director of the Bonitafest Melodrama, San Diego County’s longest-running theatre production. It celebrated its 31st season in 2008. Branscomb is San Diego County’s most commissioned playwright. He has authored more than 70 produced plays and musicals for more than 20 theater companies across the nation.

Virchis and Branscomb first teamed up in 1992 to update and revise the Lerner-Lowe musical “Paint Your Wagon” at Starlite Musical Theatre. Virchis asked Branscomb to rewrite the cliched Latino character Julio from a shuffling Mexican knockabout to a proud indigenous hero. The revision played to sold-old audiences at Starlite and was named Best Play of the Season by San Diego’s theatre critics. They also worked together as playwright and director of Diver-City Works Theatre and the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast for the National Conference of Community and Justice, America’s oldest civil rights organization.

Teatro Mascara Magica was founded in 1989 to increase the production of multicultural theatre and to provide professional theatrical opportunities to underrepresented segments of the population. Another mission of the Teatro is to subsidize ticket prices to make live theatre affordable to families and less affluent persons. La Pastorela has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as well as numerous human rights organizations. La Pastorela was a recipient of the 2004 Multicultural Heritage Award for its leadership in multicultural theatre.

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