Arts & Theater

B Street adapts Latino folk tales for Family Series

The cast of the B Street Family Series production of “Dia de los Cuentos” includes, from left, Armando Rivera, Amy Kelly, Nestor Campos Jr. and director Buck Busfield (back to camera).
The cast of the B Street Family Series production of “Dia de los Cuentos” includes, from left, Armando Rivera, Amy Kelly, Nestor Campos Jr. and director Buck Busfield (back to camera).

When a company produces as many original plays as the B Street Family Series has – 46 since its inception in 2003 – new and interesting material becomes a premium resource.

For its latest production, “Dia de los Cuentos,” the company will dramatize the rich vein of Latino folk tales with adaptations of “How the Sun and Moon Were Created,” “Pepito the Mouse,” “The Parrot and the Woodseller,” “The Sad Legend of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl” and “The Rabbit and the Coyote.”

“This is a mine of stories we’ve never tapped,” B Street associate producer Jerry R. Montoya said during a technical rehearsal of the production. Montoya was one of three writers (with co-director Buck Busfield and associate artist David Pierini) who penned stage versions of the stories for the project. A team of artists are co-directing the production, including Busfield, Montoya, Pierini and Lyndsay Burch.

One of B Street’s school tour administrators noted that the history of the Americas is always a topic with the teachers she talks to as she brainstorms ideas for new shows. Besides the Family Series, which has a home in the B Street Theatre’s 110-seat B2 space, the long-running B Street Theatre School Tour annually performs 12 times per week, 38 weeks per year, for more than 200,000 school-age children.

“Every year we’re trying to bring great theater to kids, and we’ve done stories like Harriet Tubman and Sherlock Holmes in the past,” Montoya said.

He looked at Latino folk tales for stories that might be appropriate.

“I found several that were too scary, but I also found some that seemed to be really fun,” Montoya said. “More than just exploring the culture, we’re exploring a vein of stories that we’ve never really delved into.”

“Día de los Cuentos” marks the 161st play written by B Street and the first time that Busfield, Montoya and Pierini have collaborated to write a Family Series script.

Montoya said the stories have tremendous visual images but also creation myths, moral stories, and even a version of the tooth fairy as a mouse, called “Pepito.”

Pierini, who has been fascinated by myths of all kinds since childhood, liked the Aztec story of the creation of the sun and moon. “I thought it was really fun and perfect for children’s theater: You have a god who’s arrogant, loud and bombastic and then you have a god who’s humble and pure.”

Although the loud god boasts of sacrificing herself to become the sun, she is really afraid to, so the humble god does instead, he explained.

“It was a perfect drama and comedic structure,” Pierini said. Seeking another story to include, Pierini asked his neighbor, Marie Acosta, executive director of La Raza Galleria Posada, which story she thought would be essential. She told him the creation story of the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which overlook the Valley of Mexico.The story, which has several variations, tells of the doomed romance of a princess and a warrior.

“It’s a tragic love story,” said Pierini, “and in a show like this where we have a lot of comedy, a lot of fun stuff for the kids, we always like to bust that up with some drama and have that downbeat as well.”

Bay Area-based actress Dena Martinez, who is featured in the ensemble cast, said the family theater work reminds her of working in agitprop – politically oriented – theater.

“It's very comfortable and very familiar and goes back to my time with Teatro Campesino,” Martinez said. “I was also with the Mime Troupe and Culture Clash, so to me this is my comfort zone.”

Martinez, who has worked with ACT, Berkeley Rep and Magic Theater and in voice work for Pixar and Zoetrope, knows you can’t fool young audiences.

“Children are the most honest audiences,” Martinez said. “You can’t get by with just anything. They see; they’ll say it. It’s actually more nerve-wracking. ... You can’t have false moments with a children’s audience.”

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

Dia de los Cuentos

What: Buck Busfield, Jerry R. Montoya, and David Pierini have brought Latino folk tales to life for the stage.

When: Saturday-March 29; Saturdays & Sundays 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Preview at 1 p.m. Saturday; opening 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: B Street Theatre B2 Stage, 2711 B St., Sacramento

Cost: $15-$20, previews $8-$12

Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org

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