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With DESDE EL PUENTE Christmas Edition, at Manny Fried, Raíces invites us to their Latino “home for the holidays.”

THE BASICS: DESDE EL PUENTE, Christmas Edition, a festival of short one-act plays, presented by Raíces Theatre Company, starring their ensemble, runs through December 17, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 6 at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue, (third floor elevator rides available). (381-9333). Water and snacks available for $1.00 Runtime: Under two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Think of this as a pot-luck Hispanic Christmas dinner. Some of the dishes might not be in your personal family tradition, but you know that each “cook” brought his or her best to the table. The “cooks” here are nine different playwrights and seven different directors serving up ten independent skits, each delicious it its own way, each under 10-minutes-long, the first five mostly serious, the second five mostly humorous, all reflecting very human, very personal experiences with a Latino/Puerto Rican flavor.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The Raíces (meaning “Roots”) Ensemble continues to delight. Multiple Artie-nominated Raices Founder and Artistic Director Victoria Pérez is one of our finest directors, but here she only directed two of the ten plays, so how can we explain the high quality of the evening? I think that the Raíces ensemble may hold a key to what most business corporations claim to strive for, but fall far short of achieving, and that is true collaboration.

Every play was written by, directed by, or acted in by a member of the ensemble: Marta Aracelis, Melinda Capeles-Rowe, Lissette De Jesús, Chris Espinal, Rolando Martin Gómez, Alexia Rose Guzmán, Smirna Mercedes-Pérez, Víctor Morales, María Pérez-Gómez, Josué Rosario-Cáliz, Carlos Rafael Maggiolo, Amara Gómez, and Alejandro Pérez.

Small, but telling examples of the collaboration were the lightning-fast set changes. As you might imagine, with eight changes happening “in real time” it could try an audience’s patience, but EVERYBODY was involved in this mundane yet critical task which was actually fun to watch. Here’s another little observation: Ensemble member Steve Brachmann was our elevator operator and Alejandro Gómez, having just played The Prince in CINDERELLA across town a few hours earlier, had rushed over after his matinee performance to be the ticket seller and house manager.

The acting and direction are so solid that you don’t have to understand Spanish (which I don’t) to enjoy yourself.

The acting and direction are so solid that you don’t have to understand Spanish (which I don’t) to enjoy yourself. Yes, you’ll be missing some of the experience, and some of the jokes, but, if you were wondering, this Christmas Edition is much more in English than last summer’s one-act play festival.

Here is a brief summary of some of the plays to give you an idea of what to expect:

EL CUARTO REY (The Fourth King) is a bedtime story told by a father to his daughter of “The Other Wise Man” in which a fourth king (magi), on his way to Bethlehem, is separated and spends the next 33 years looking for Jesus, all the while doing good works.

A BRIEF 3 MINUTES is the saddest play of the evening, where, on Christmas eve, the U.S. border is open for 3 minutes to allow a family an all-too-brief reunion.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT is a story of a Christmas dinner where the daughter brings her “outsider” boyfriend and “complications ensue.” It’s very nuanced due to clever casting.

And then, after intermission, things “lighten up” considerably.

INNOCENCE shows us two pre-teen girls yakking away about all sorts of “taboo” subjects seemingly without it affecting them.

PA CHI CHA reminded me of last summer’s play TRADICIÓN about a modern daughter who wanted nothing to do with the old ways, in the end bonding with her mom over an old family recipe. In this play, it’s the same daughter character, ultimately bonding with her father by learning to play the guiro, that signature Latin American percussion instrument made from a hollow gourd with parallel notches cut in one side, played by rubbing metal tines along the notches to produce a ratchet sound, here with a rhythm that went “pah-chee-CHAH pah-chee-CHAH.”

PARRANDA 101 describes how Puerto Ricans are known for their unforgettable “parrandas” when a group of friends gathers together to surprise another friend. It’s the wild and crazy Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. Here, we are in a “101” class, introduced by “Dr. Chen Cha” to all the characters who might appear on your doorstep. As each type is mentioned, they briefly appear. It was hilarious, fast-paced, and the perfect way to wrap up the evening.

By the way, 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.”

*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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