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The Sparrow's Daughter:  A Cuento
Blackout Theatre Company

Also see Paul's reviews of Oklahoma! and Oliver!

The Sparrow's Daughter

In 2007, a group of performing artists graduated from The University of New Mexico, determined not to let the fact that they were out of a formal university setting stop their respective educations in the world of theatre. After graduation, the group used their individual skill sets to teach each other the fundamentals of improvisation, sketch comedy, devised and physical performance. As the group coalesced, a theatre company emerged. That Fall, Blackout Theatre Company produced their first sketch comedy show and, with it, established a commitment to staging new and often original work in Albuquerque.

Over the past four years the company has grown from a group largely known for sketch comedy to an ensemble capable of artistically staging the work of everyone from company members to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights. As the group has found its home in the Albuquerque Theatre Community, education has emerged as a defining element of the company's mission. Accordingly, incorporating the voices of young people into new and original performance was soon to follow.

Set in New Mexico, The Sparrow's Daughter:  A Cuento dramatizes the very real conflict between the stories we are told as children and the dismissive "but you know that's not real" refrain often repeated by adults.  The devised, original work follows teenagers Alma (Rachel Leos) and Fina (Ericka Olvera) onto a New Mexican mesa where Fina disappears under mysterious and foreboding circumstances moments after the show begins. For the rest of the show, Alma endeavors to find her friend while gradually discovering that things are not always as they appear to be. Both Olvera and Leos (previously seen on UNM and Blackout stages) realistically depict the physical and emotional struggles of living on the tenuous border of childhood and adulthood. However, while all adolescents deal with anxieties surrounding growing up, Alma and Fina also have monsters to contend with.

Director Heather Yeo explained, "For this show, we brainstormed ideas around the themes of monsters and myths in New Mexico. We wanted the show to be true to the structure of traditional cuentos, and we wanted to tell the stories we had all heard as kids in the same spirit in which we heard them—that they were real, that they coexisted within our world."

After Fina goes missing, Alma is determined to find her friend, despite the vague answers given to her by adults. Eventually, her father Cesar (Leonard Madrid) explains to her that if she wants to rescue Fina, she must accept the fact that the world is far more expansive than she previously realized.  As she gradually begins to open her eyes to the possibility that there may be more to her existence than the obvious, the sparse set of flats and plywood designed by Jeff Andersen is transformed. Flowers grow, trees rustle, and light exists in prior darkness.

Perhaps because members of Blackout are trained to do more than one thing, the show succeeds on multiple levels.  Lighting designer Barney Lopez ensures we're never sure exactly who or what might emerge from the shadows but we remain rapt, partially due to the intimate confines of the Box Performance Space. Supplementing the artistry of actors and set designers is the work of puppet designer and lead puppeteer Shannon Flynn. Throughout the show, Flynn's shadow puppets appear on screen to occasionally supplement the story when it seems too grounded in reality, or to communicate the magical narrative when explanation fails the families onstage. Flynn's puppets and sound designer Christopher Walsh's live music facilitate the creation of an environment that is equal parts realistic, magical, foreboding and exciting.

The show never fully explains the myths of La Llorona, El Cucuy or El Venado; a credit to (rather than oversight of) the fourteen-person writing team. Instead, the characters created by Rachel Leos, Ericka Olvera, Leonard Madrid, William Johnson, Katy Bowen and Lauren Poole are rooted in realism, but infused with the unknown. The company shrewdly chooses not to answer all of our questions, because there are no concrete answers to the Southwestern myths first heard during childhood that continue to cause sleepless nights long into adulthood.

The Sparrow's Daughter:  A Cuento written and developed by fourteen Blackout Actors (ten of whom are Core members of the Company) and directed by co-founder Heather Yeo runs through March 27, 2011.  Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 pm with 2 pm matinee on Sunday.  Tickets are $12.00 for general admission, $8.00 for students, seniors at ATG members. All performances are at the Box Performance Space, 100 Gold Ave SW #112 (the southwest corner of 2nd and Gold). Parking is available for free on the street or for a fee in the parking garage. To purchase tickets and make reservations please visit www.theboxabq.com.  Blackout suggests that the show is appropriate for ages ten and up.


Photo: Josh Bien

-Michelle Hill

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