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DESDE EL PUENTE at Manny Fried sets the bar high for one act play festivals.

THE BASICS:  DESDE EL PUENTE, a bilingual one-act play festival written, directed, and performed by the Raíces Ensemble, presented by Raíces Theatre Company runs through June 11, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (pay what you can), Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 6 (a great idea which should catch on) at the Manny Fried Playhouse 255 Great Arrow Avenue, 3rd floor (elevator rides available). (381-9333). Water and snacks available for $1.00 Runtime: Two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This is a series of ten, under 10-minute-long independent skits, mostly humorous, some more in English, some all in Spanish, that reflect the human experience with a definite Latino/Puerto Rican flavor. The acting and direction are so solid that you don’t have to understand Spanish (which I don’t) to enjoy yourself, but you’ll be missing some of the experience.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Without a doubt, in its fifth year, The Raíces (meaning “Roots”) Ensemble has hit its stride. And while multiple Artie-nominated Raices Founder and Artistic Director Victoria Pérez is not on stage and only directed three of the ten, you can sense her firm hand on the steering wheel the entire evening. The plays are quick to the point, well-acted throughout, with balanced casting.  The festival’s title DESDE EL PUENTE (“From the Bridge”) comes from the title of the radionovela of the same name “in tribute to local community leader, activist and writer, Rafael Pérez, celebrating Latino stories”).

All ten works were written, directed, and performed by members of the Raices Ensemble, which includes, in random order: Marta Aracelis, Victoria Pérez, Smirna Mercedes-Pérez, Dewel Pérez, Maria Pérez-Gómez, Rolando Martin Gómez, Alejandro Gabriel Gómez, Steve Brachmann, Alejandro Pérez, and Carlos Rafael Maggiolo. Here are short descriptions of the plays:

APPLICATION concerns a young woman in heaven applying to God for a pass to go back to earth just this one time to set something right with her mother.

TRADICIÓN has a college student finally agree to learn Latina cooking traditions from her mother.

EL MUERTO (“The dead”) was the funniest play of the evening and I don’t want to give anything away, but the basic set up is a wake where things go rapidly downhill.

RESTITUTION was the saddest, in which a friend tries to counsel a young mother after a serious car accident.

COMO SI NO ESTUVIERA (“This is not how I was”) (?) about childbirth, Puerto Rican style, where the delivery doctor takes a break to enjoy arroz y frijoles (rice and beans).

ANNIVERSARY is all about empowered woman-hood, Puerto Rican style.

LA BELLA Y LA BESTIA (“Beauty and the Beast”) was also pretty funny about two high powered movie stars who hate each other but must get over it to film a love scene.

AMERICA HABLÓ (“America Chat”) (?)  features a newscast on the night of the 2016 American Presidential election.

MY LATINO EXPERIENCE was written by the only “gringo” in the ensemble, who in his bio identifies himself as “Esteban Blanco” (The White Steve) and is about learning to speak Spanish and thinking you’re saying something nice, but it’s actually something pretty insulting.

PA QUE TU LO SEPAS (“So that you know it” or “Letting you know”) is the last of the ten for several reasons, but mostly because it sums up an underlying theme of many of the evening’s short plays, and that is Latino identity. It’s a particularly well written, directed, and acted play about a high school senior who is going to give a speech but initially feels that he has nothing to say.

… Raíces gives us a night of great theater.

Well, Raíces Ensemble has something to say, but not by lecturing us, preaching to us, hitting us over the head, or any of the other mistakes that those of us with a point often make. Instead, Raíces gives us a night of great theater.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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