I’m admittedly jaded when it comes to theater, maybe more than I should be at first glance.
When I was a kid, my parents used to take us into Pittsburgh every New Years’ Eve to see the Tamburitzans, a group from Duquesne University who did a theatrical presentation of eastern European culture and dance. Every once in a while, they would take us into either Pittsburgh or some other venue to see theatrical presentations, as well.
In high school we did “Camelot,” and as a college major, people in the education department had to participate in at least one drama — I was on the set building crew for “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
I’d always liked that better than being on stage, ever since seventh grade when I was booted out of tryouts for Scrooge and wandered into wrestling tryouts instead — a happy coincidence for the drama teacher, the wrestling coach, and above all, for me.
If you missed “Bless Me, Ultima” last weekend, you truly missed a piece of our cultural heritage. I say ours because it was, or is, distinctly New Mexican, and perhaps I could say it contains a piece of New Mexico that is in danger of disappearing-even more so now, than was true when Rudolfo Anaya wrote it.
Since I am not native to this state or part of the country, I can’t pretend too much expertise on that sort of thing, but I was privileged to see it through the context or the viewpoint of my wife, whose culture is celebrated in the play.
Surely the magical or mystical elements present reflect, as much as anything else, the magical world view of a boy of around ten, growing up in a very traditional culture and setting, just before so much began to change.
It would seem to me that, as much as anything, the stage effects were designed to communicate the world of a 10-year-old Tony, who no doubt believed that Tenorio was not just a jerk, but a brujo, that Tenorio’s daughters were not just mean, but were witches. I can remember believing very similar things, as well as haunted houses, etc., when I was about ten.
Therein lies part of the magic of theater — that it can take us, not simply into the world of the plot, but the world of the child Anaya was remembering himself to be. Not just a story line, but an altered reality. It probably helps that Janice is tied by culture and understanding to the world of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, but it helps as well to have been a ten year old boy, and one fortunate enough not to have forgotten what that felt like.
There you have it. Unfortunately, if you did not see the play, it is post facto. However, it is my understanding that a movie is being filmed, due for wrap-up in December of this year.
And the book — you could always read the book.
Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis Christian Middle School. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org