by Terrance Mc Arthur
Pedro, The Angel of Olvera Street is at the Enchanted Playhouse in Visalia, and it’s a wonderful mixture of Christmas Spirit and multiculturalism without an overdose of sugar.
Based on the 1946 book by Fresno-born Leo Politi, one of the first writer-illustrators of children’s books to explore the many cultures of Los Angeles, Debby Metzler’s adaptation builds on the story of a sweet-voiced boy (Carlos Gomez) who leads the Las Posadas procession down the oldest street in L.A. Here, the mayor/landlord (Kelly Ventura) wants to stop the old-fashioned traditions that he sees as cutting into business. There is also a restaurant owner (Ana Gonzalez) and her tender friendship with a talented silversmith (Paul Garcia) that is blossoming into something more, and a woman (Letty Sullivant) on a desperate search for the perfect place for a massive piñata.
Las Posadas is a traditional Christmas celebration in some Spanish-speaking areas, commemorating the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for nine nights, seeking lodging for the night, and ending in a party.
Pedro is described as having “a voice like an angel,” and Gomez fulfills that promise, singing with a clarity that strikes the heart and brings forth love. His cherubic face shines with innocence, glowing in the warmth of his Grandfather’s love. Ron Liden provides that warmth for the boy.
Christmas stories usually need a Grinch or a Scrooge, a negative character who tries to ruin the holiday spirit of everyone else. Ventura has a joyful time being the mean mayor trying to stop what he thinks of as a “parade.” His over-the-top-of-the-moon antics show the lengths some people would go to in order to prove that they are modern and progressive instead of tied to traditions they see as outmoded.
The set is bright and cheery, evoking the little booths and shops of the real Olvera Street, with a shadowy version of the Los Angeles skyline rising above it. There are some bright accents that were donated by the Las Palmas Restaurant, next door to the theatre (Great food!). Background music before and during the show is a delightful mix of Latin-styled Christmas songs played lightly on guitar. The singing of “Silent Night” in Spanish and the Las Posadas re-creation up and down the aisles are tear-inducing and bring a lump to the throat. This is a charming show, and a tribute to the enduring qualities of Politi’s work (which will soon be featured at the Fresno Art Museum).
Pedro, The Angel of Olvera Street runs through December 14. The Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company is located at The Main Street Theatre, 307 E Main, Visalia, CA. For information, call (559) 739-4600 or go to www.enchantedplayhouse.org.
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