Live Latino History for a Night through Outdoor, Interactive 'Once a Blue Moon' (5 Stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
Double Edge Theatre presents Cada Luna Azul (Once a Blue Moon), running July 20 - August 22, 2016 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, conceived by Stacy Klein, with Carlos Uriona & Matthew Glassman, direction and scenario by Stacy Klein, written by Matthew Glassman, project direction by Adam Bright, music direction and arrangements by Micaela Farias Gomez, Manuel Uriona, and John Peitso, choreography by Milena Dabova and Micaela Farias Gomez, devised with the Double Edge Ensemble, designed and built by Michal Kuriata and Jeff Bird, painting by Hayley Wood, Carroll Durand, Jeremy Louise Eaton, with Rich Van Schouwen and Paula Bird, costume design by Tadea Klein, lighting design by John Peitso. See www.doubleedgetheatre.org.
To get to Once in a Blue Moon from Boston, you must drive two hours to Western Massachusetts, but it's worth the drive, because Double Edge Theatre is the best outdoor summer theatre in New England. Drawing cast from Boston, New York City, and from all over the world, the production takes place on a real working farm with seven outdoor stages. As the play progresses, the entire audience gets up and walks from one location to another. The production is handicapped accessible. You'll see performers fly above on wires and swim below in a real pond.
This original production features a Hispanic narrator telling his memories of being young in Latin America. The story has no specific time or place, but is influenced by Argentina in the 1970s, and earlier conflicts of civilization and culture found in books written by Lawrence Thorton, Alejandro Jodorowski, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Marquez, Jorge Borges, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. Luna, the creative spirit of Latin America, is born into a small village. There she comes into conflict with an Englishman who seeks to divert Agua Santa, the blessed river that is the foundation of the entire community. Although some forms of modernization may improve lives, this one is driven by corporate greed. It would devastate the village to lose its water, and another would flood. Will Luna survive? Will her society and culture?
This being said, the production has no real plot. Instead it immerses you in the dream-like recollections of the narrator, played by Carlos Uriona. Even a gringo like me started to feel Latin American, with the cast interacting with the audience. I was handed a watermelon slice by an impoverished vendor. The audience is invited to dance, clap, and parade along with the cast.
All around are delightful nuances. Because the production takes place in a real outdoor location, not just an outdoor stage, actors hide in bushes to delighfully surprise you. You really don't know what is going to happen next or from which direction you'll suddenly find a puppet or actor sneaking up on you. They even perform while walking through a real river on the farm, and swim and boat around in the pond! One time I caught a puppeteer behind a bush portraying a bird, way off to the left where I doubt anyone else was looking. It made me feel like I was having a personal interaction with that one actor. Such flourishes create a magical feeling that anything is possible.
The tone of the play is called 'magic realism', and its purpose is not to drive a plot but to give you a visceral sense of what it was like to live in poverty without hope, but also to be joyous in celebrating life. The play dealt with dictators, revolutionaries, and greedy businesspeople, but did not show so much pain that it derailed the celebration of life. This combination of simultaneous melancholy and celebration is part of a Latin culture, I learned. It's all done with song and dance in Spanish, and dialogue in English. It's helpful to know that "Huelga" means "general strike against the corporation overlords", but otherwise you don't need Spanish to enjoy the show. (In fact, I asked, and only a third of the cast speaks Spanish.) No microphones are used, but I only had trouble hearing over the live music a few times. We met a bitter spinster, a bar owner, a comical hunchback, and a young woman, but no one person seems to be the focus: in every scene the community and culture are what is important. Puppets and giant staging by Michal Kuriata and Jeff Bird make the production larger than life, emphasizing the timeless and nostalgic nature of the show. Although the lighting (John Peitso) was straightforward, the rich variety of costuming by Tadea Klein allowed magical creatures to roam the edges and background of each scene, furthering the dreamlike setting.
Everything about Once a Blue Moon is larger than life. Actors dance on stilts or fly above on wires. The attempt to move the river is shown through a beautiful and highly original dance of blue sheets and villagers. Personally, I am not much for character studies, preferring the tension that comes with a plot. (If this is the narrator's memories, which actor is playing the young narrator in the scenes we see?) However, in this case, the scenery, dance, and cultural insights provided by the show left the audience captivated and gasping in wonder. As though signaling divine approval, we saw distant clouds twinkling with lightning behind the performance all night, without a sound.
Although the production would be even more engaging if you start with some knowledge of Latin American history (I was personally surprised that the British were the villains, assuming that the Spanish and Americans have caused most of the trouble in Latin America), afterwards they invite the audience to a cast party where you can ask as many questions as you like. I felt so comfortable that I sat in the parking lot admiring the farm (and its cows), speaking with some of the cast as they stored away the staging, until they booted me out. Kudos to Carlos Uriona (narrator and co-creator) whose wide range takes the audience both to dark and to uplifting places, sometimes simultaneously, without confusion. Milena Dabova (Luna) keeps herself a bit separate from the other actors, and so acts as an observer and interpreter who symbolizes Latin American culture more perhaps than a real person.
The production forces no interpretation on the audience, but my best take on it is this. When outsiders come to change nature, or the Hispanic people, they might find it harder than they think. There's a saying that you can't put your foot twice in the same river, because the river flows, so the water is never the same. Also your foot is never the same as you grow and change as a person. But you are still the same person. Perhaps they signal that although modernization has caused Latin society to adapt, Latin society is still the same.
This timeless, dreamy production succeeds in creating an entire world that is educational, moving, and inclusive of its visitors. At the end, the narrator says that now we too, the audience, can keep the old days alive in our hearts, as we remember too our time in the Latin village of the past.
There's no way to describe in writing the fascination that you will find at Double Edge Theatre. All theatre casts bring passion, but this cast spend all summer working on a farm while building an original production from scratch. Now that is dedication, and you can feel that from the audience through the show. It really is a Latin American Spectactle, the title of their Boston parade last month. Take it from me. If you enjoy Events INSIDER, which takes no advertising money but yet has 50,000 followers, you will not want to miss this performance, the artistic highlight of the summer.
So don't be a stick in the mud. Get out to this transformative and educational production, no matter where you live. I'm delighted to give Once a Blue Moon a full 5 stars.
See www.doubleedgetheatre.org. And check out their Latin American Spectacle in Springfield, MA in late September, too.