Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg: El Puente's 22nd Annual Three Kings Day Celebration Show

We've just come back from El Puente's fabulous 22nd annual Three Kings Day celebration and a terrific afternoon of drama, music and dance at the Grand Street Campus High Schools.

Thanks to El Puente's Theresa Doherty, we got mailed our tickets while we were still in sunny and warm Phoenix earlier this week, because otherwise we couldn't have gotten in along with the hundreds of others into the campus's nicely-appointed auditorium for the 1 p.m. show.

We got there early (all of us were asked to bring a donation of a can or box of nonperishable food for to the Southside Mission Food Pantry to help to support its
life-saving work) and although we skipped an audience and photo session with the Three Kings, we did watch the kids 12 and under pose with them and receive brightly-wrapped gifts, courtesy of the Hispanic Federation and Councilmember Diana Reyna.

As we settled down to our seats with little ones on both sides of us, we admired the auditorium's murals and then focused on the sneak preview of the revived PBS Kids show Electric Company, an episode featuring high-tech prankster Manny Spamboni, played by the multi-faceted Dominic Colón, theater director of Teatro El Puente, who wrote today's show and directed it along with Piper Anderson, El Puente's arts coordinator.

This was the fourth year in a row Colón and Anderson wrote and directed the show (this year, with help from Sasha Dobos-Czarnocha), and it was funny, fast-moving, and filled with young talent. First, Frances Lucerna, El Puente's executive director, introduced the afternoon show (a second show is at 5 p.m.), giving us a little history about the 22 years of Día de los Reyes celebrations and thanking the Community Preservation Corporation and other sponsors of the event.

Then El Puente founder and president Luis Garden Acosta spoke, in both Spanish and English, about the ideals of community and how, in these difficult economic times, it's necessary to continue the fight for freedom and justice of the United States' own King, Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow. At the mention of the next day's inauguration of President Barack Obama, the crowd applauded enthusiastically.

Finally, the house lights dimmed, and the show - "Latinoman, Defender of the Barrio" - began. It was an incredibly professional production, from the evocative sets to the flashy and well-styled costumes to the acting and amazing choreography.

The show was in the tradition of The Wizard of Oz and other fantasies involving adolescents who are magically whisked into an alternate reality and discover that the home they grumbled about was indeed the best place of all.

Rey (played by the talented Jose Morales), is a cranky adolescent who tells his sister, abuela and abuelo that he wants no part of the Three Kings Day holiday beloved by his much-missed late mother -- Rey says his friends think that his family celebrates January 6 because they're cheap and like to buy bargain gifts -- but once Rey gets transported into the world of a comic book superhero, Latinoman, thanks to his grandfather's present, he learns to appreciate his family and community's traditions.

With a giant Latinoman comic cover looming above (it looks remarkably like the work of Jack Kirby), Rey discovers himself in the very weird city of Billyburg, where the Mayor (Sean Carvajal) is a green-haired, chalk-white-faced, purple-gloved amalgam of the Joker and Michael Bloomberg, who plots to stop the traditional So'sida residents from celebrating Three Kings Day (their anti-traditional No'sida adversaries tend to wear outrageous hipsterish outfits) and get rid of the people's champion, superhero Latinoman.

The whole show works on several levels. For the kids, there is robust, rollicking comedy, but for some of the adults, the satire is sharp (the Joker-like Mayor, with the help of his aide Conalisa Lies [Rose Rivera], schemes to quickly get the City Council to let him keep his control over the city forever). Latinoman (Chris Then), in both his superhero outfit and in his secret identity as the laconic Tino, who befriends Rey, is refreshingly low-key.

The varied choreography by Ros Nash and Arkadiusz "Erock" Lesniak -- from very young kids dressed as angels accompanying Rey's now-angel mother (Nikaury Acosta, who earlier does a nice turn as Rey's abuela) in "on Angel's Wings" to amazing b-boying in several dances, including "Heroes vs. Evil: The Battle for 3 Kings," set to Hans Zimmerman's "Introduce a Little Anarchy" from the Dark Night soundtrack but reminiscent of the fight scenes in the campy 1960s Batman TV show - is so stunning that even the few squawling babies fell silent.

The lesson that one's community, culture and traditions are important goes down easily, and even a cynical adult never feels this production talks down to kids or skirts being saccharine. The show is never less than vibrant, even in its more serious moments, and it builds to a celebratory conclusion as Rey is transported back home to Brooklyn, now more than ready to join in his family's Three Kings Day celebration with his worldly-wise grandfather (author and co-director Dominic Colón).

The cast and crew and everyone associated with El Puente's Three Kings Day show well deserved the enthusiastic applause as they took their bows. It's wonderful that our community has so many talented people, young and not-so-young, who must have worked very hard for weeks to put on this production enjoyed by the hundreds of people there. Thanks to all.

It may be a little late, but ¡Feliz Día de los Tres Reyes Magos!

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