The Many Uses of Enchantment

Leyendas de Duende, presented by Boxtales. At the Marjorie Luke
Theatre, Sunday, January 14.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

Boxtales conveys the universal appeal of fairytales faithfully
and playfully in its latest production, Leyendas de Duende: Magical
Tales of Latin America. In both of the stories dramatized, “La
Calavera” and “Paco and the Witch,” the main characters are drawn
to the power of the unknown. They flirt with mystery, danger, and
temptation, and they don’t always end up living “happily ever
after.” These stories, deeply rooted in Latin American folk
culture, invite reflection on life’s mysteries, beyond a neatly
summed up moral at the end of each.

Director Sigfrido Aguilar truly employed the versatility of the
Boxtales troupe. In the pursuit of cultural authenticity, the
actors spent several weeks in Guanajato, México, absorbing the
local energy and flair. The end result is a dynamic interplay of
three fine actors — Michael Andrews, Matt Tavianini, and David
Guerra, all of whom play multiple roles and don many different
masks. In the first story, “La Calavera,” which is from Mexico, the
most imposing presence onstage is a 10-foot-tall Lady Death, her
black lacy veil softening the stark image of her white skull. As
strangely elegant as she is imposing, Lady Death is literally
larger than life — she has the power to take it. This is surely a
delicate balance for Andrews, who manages to move gracefully on
stilts. In the role of the young godson endowed with the gift of
healing, Guerra makes a convincing transformation from innocent boy
to grasping, proud man.

The second tale, “Paco and the Witch,” from Puerto Rico, is a
light-hearted warning to heed parental advice. In a dark wood hides
a bruja (witch), and the only way for Paco to escape her stew pot
is to guess her name. Predictably, animals come to his rescue — not
the birds or the mice as in Cinderella — but rather one Señor
Cangrejo, a crab!

Fantastic masks and the sounds of Afro-Cuban drumming both help
express the rhythm and pulse of primal human nature. The
enthusiastic audience was comprised mostly of families with young
children, and they participated not only by singing as prompted,
but also when the “princess” in “La Calavera” was selected at
random from the audience to make a brief appearance onstage.
Boxtales is promoting an interactive and diverse style of dramatic
expression, one which is well suited to young learners who need
stories that teach, not preach, about life’s choices.


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