There's Bright Chatter at The Chupacabra Cantina
The play about everything: a nun who leaves the convent, the Monsanto Company, genetically modified organisms (GMO), the Chupacabra (a mythical goat-sucker), Kit Carson, Latina camaraderie, and Fox News, "which makes you dumb."
The Chupacabra Cantina is in Tierra Amarilla, a small county seat tucked away at the edge of the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico. The bartender (played by playwright Soledad Hindi) is the master of ceremonies. The cantina is frequented by a variety of local women, including a musician (Vivian Fernandez Geilín) who offers ongoing wisecracks on the cantina's drama. Rumors of a Chupacabra sighting brings a Fox News bunny (a wonderfully snotty Juanita Roberts) to town to report on the incident.
Over the course of the play, we get stories from rural New Mexico, Palestine, and around the globe. We also hear plenty about the kind of seeds farmers are encouragednearly forcedto plant. The cantina regulars begin to wonder if these new GMO seeds have brought the mythical Chupacabra back to life. I think I got that right, but it's hard to tell, as the chatter goes in a zillion different directions and half of it's in Spanish. That, by the way, is not a criticism.
The music is a standout throughout the drama. Musical director, Geilín, delivers a charming assortment, from traditional Hispanic songs to Spanish-language versions of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and Simon and Garfunkle's "The Sounds of Silence." The harmony in the song the nuns sing as they open the second act is particularly beautiful. Geilín is also terrific as Muse, the cantina musician.
Other lovely performances include Valarie Borrego and Sonya Tijerina as Pablita and Roberta, two locals who seem to nearly live at the cantina. Hindi is wonderful as the bartender/proprietor, especially when she lets loose in anger at the hilarious Fox News report on the Chupacabra sighting. Fox New, of course, gets everything wrong.
This is not an ordinary play. Like other productions in the Siembra series, the highest value in The Chupacabra Cantina is authenticity. This play gets New Mexico right. There's a wealth of local color. Watching this play, you can nearly smell the roasting chile and feel the cool mountain breeze.
The storytelling is charming, the joking around is funny, and the characters are drawn with specificity. There's no strong dramatic arc, but that's OK. I'll take New Mexico sweetness over conventional plotting. The only time the production breaks down is when the nuns explain the scientific details of GMO over drinks in the cantina. It's a bit of an info dump, and how much detail do we really need to get the point that the locals are getting screwed by corporate greed?
I hope the Siembra Latino Theatre Festival becomes an annual series. The plays present a valuable and authentic view into Hispanic life in America. A yearly festival would also provide an ongoing outlet for local Hispanic playwrights, actors, and production crews.
The Chupacabra Cantina will run through March 29, 2015, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Performances are at 7:30 Thursday through Saturday, and at 2:00 on Sunday. Tickets are $18, with a $3 discount for seniors and students. For more information or to reserve tickets, call the NHCC at 246-2262, or go to nationalhispaniccenter.org. All performances of Siembra will be held at the NHCC, at 701 4th St SW. Upcoming Siembra productions include Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, presented in partnership with The Vortex Theatre, running April 16-19.