Thursday, October 14, 2010

Landmark Play Comes To Socorro For One Night Only

By Rebecca Rose

A new play based on the acclaimed novel “Bless Me Ultima” debuts for one night only at the Macey Center on Saturday, Oct. 16, as part of New Mexico Tech’s ongoing “Performing Arts Series”.
The play is based on the 1972 book of the same name by Rudolfo Anaya.  It follows the story of Antonio Marez, and Ultima, a healer who comes to live with his family.  Ultima struggles to stop the witchcraft masterminded by the three daughters of the central villain, Tenorio.  Set in Guadalupe, New Mexico at the start of WWI, the novel deals with strong themes concerning evil, justice and the nature of God.  As young Tony witnesses several deaths, he must confront his own religious and moral issues.
 A vivid blend of puppetry, music, video and dance.  The cast is comprised of nearly 30 actors ranging in age from 11 to 70. Produced by the Vortex Theatre in partnership with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the play comes to Socorro in the midst of a two-month Southwest tour. The play is directed by Valli Marie Rivera, who previously helmed the productions Lorca in a Green Dress and La Casa Azul.
Anaya himself wrote the stage adaptation, and worked closely with Vortex Theater members to shape the script.  Rivera fondly recalls working with the legendary author.
“He was having a blast.” She said. “He was very open, very giving and very generous.  We understand each other perfectly, him and I.  We speak same language, artistically.”
Angelo Jaramillo plays “The Author”, a character that represents Tony later in his life.   “To play the author is a great honor.” Jaramillo said.   Like the director, Jaramillo has a strong admiration for Anaya.  “He’s very intelligent, very astute. He’s a great voice for Chicano people, and we’re honored to still have him alive as a living legend we can still consult with.”  
Starring as Ultima is Juanita Sena-Shannon, who thinks the subject matter will have strong appeal for Soccoroans.  “I believe that the folks of Socorro will relate to many elements of Mr. Anaya's play,” she said. “You live among beautiful hills where, as Ultima says, ‘nature is alive’.  Your wilderness and bosques are endless with spiritualism bringing peace and wonder.”
 “It is a genuine New Mexican story, yet universal in its appeal,” said Rivera. “It shows how we are all different, be we are all connected. It gives merit to our ancestors, to all of the many different cultures that make up New Mexico.”  
Anaya’s controversial depiction of religion has often made his work a target for censorship, with the book frequently ranking high on the top 100 list of banned novels of all time.  But Sena-Shannon thinks the debate is misguided.  “I believe the controversy about Mr. Anaya's story resulted from misunderstandings about the basic battle between good and evil.  Ultima's power comes directly through her faith in God and prayer.”
Much of the story revolves around Tony trying to reconcile Native American beliefs with traditional Catholicism.  Rivera points out that the heart of the subject matter is about openness and unity, not religious discord. “It is the story of this boy trying to understand differences between different cultures and people. Trying to understand himself, where he should go, what he should accept,” she said. “It gives voice to all different beliefs. If you have an open heart, we would be in a better place. I think that’s his story, and for us that’s the most important part of the story.”
Jaramillo said that the play takes a subversive, yet gentle approach in its critique of Catholicism “What’s brilliant about Anaya is that he really explores the question of what is Faith, what is God. He highlights the realities of how we grow up in that institution.  It’s profound in it’s questioning of that.”
The play runs in Socorro for one night only, at the Macey Center on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 7:30. Tickets are $14 for adults, ($12 for senior citizens 65 and over), and $12 for youths (17 and under), with a $2 DISCOUNT if purchased by 5:00pm the day before the show.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at NM Tech Cashier’s Office (second floor of Fidel Center), Brownbilt Shoes & Western Wear, and Sofia’s Kitchen. Admission is free to full-time New Mexico Tech students and pick up their tickets in advance at the Tech Bookstore. 
The Tech Club-Club Macey (TCCM) will hold a New Mexico-themed mixer  from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. before the event, complete with a homemade salsa contest open to all attendees.  TCCM is open for anyone over 21. There is a $5 charge for non-members.
For further information about the Socorro show, contact Tech’s Performing Art Series at 575-835-5688.

Photo courtesy of the Vortex Theater

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