Review: Yamel Cucuy of Glass Half Full Theater – Arts
Gricelda Silva in the title role of Glass Half Full Theatre’s Yamel Cucuy (photo by Chris Owen)
Glass Half Full Theater has earned a reputation for creating intriguing bilingual (Spanish/English) works, featuring a mix of shadow puppets, three-dimensional rod and hand-held puppets, and talented human performers, which highlight themes of social and environmental justice. And, like most of his productions, the captivating commitment of Caroline Reck, Indigo Rael and Gricelda Silva Yamel Cucuy employs a dominant and transportive magical realism, as well as boundless imagination in its storytelling.
This one-act play about things that go bump in the night has been slowly simmering for four years and was put on the back burner during the height of the pandemic. It finally receives its world premiere in the performance space of the Ground Floor Theater, just in time for Halloween and Día de los Muertos.
The work is rooted in the double cultural fear that lurks just below the surface of border society, a fear that follows 13-year-old Yamel (Silva), an undocumented immigrant in hiding, as she navigates a landscape emotional and sociopolitical treacherous. She is afraid of being discovered and deported by the immigration agents who hunt her and her brother (Gustavo Martinez). But she also fears being captured by the terrifying spiritual characters that fill Mexican folklore from her childhood, meant to scare young people into not misbehaving or putting themselves in harm’s way.
The specters haunting Yamel are El Viejo (Tane Ward in spooky, larger-than-life costumes designed by Annie Ulrich), who carries a bag full of children he has stolen and wants to add Yamel to his collection; the vengeful Las Lloronas (a masked Lori Navarrete), whose many faces seek to claim Yamel in exchange for the children she drowned; and La Lechuza (puppeteers Marina DeYoe-Pedraza and Connor Hopkins), an owl-shaped witch, who is drawn to the power of young Yamel’s early adulthood. An unexpected development in Yamel’s lifeline gives him perspective and an opportunity to write his own modern folk tale that wins over boogeymen under the bed, spirits in the closet and ICE agents at the door.
Yamel’s spiritual journey between the borders of Mexico and the United States and, later, between life and death, with the mythical beast El Chupacabrón (Martinez) as his travel guide, is facilitated by the dramatic design of the lighting by Rachel Atkinson and a backdrop of projected images and puppet shadows. A pre-recorded soundtrack of Paul Piñon’s original music draws inspiration from native drumming, folk guitar and John Carpenter’s synthesizer-based horror movie music (Halloween), Claudio Simonetti (Suspiria) and Philip Glass (candy man), and adds layers to the mood of the production. There are awesome jump scares, thanks to apartment furniture and appliances that are so much more than they appear.
All of this is well orchestrated by director Caroline Reck and K. Eliot Haynes, who is responsible for sound design and video integration. On opening night, there were times when the production went wobbly due to the complicated logistics of its staging, which tended to slow the tempo and sometimes reveal the method behind a part. creative madness. But that wasn’t enough to undermine everything extraordinary about this dark and delightful story or the recommendation readers venture to see.
Glass half full Yamel Cucuy Theater
Ground Floor Theater, 979 Springdale, glasshalffulltheatre.com
Until November 5
Duration: 80 mins.