Arts & Theater

Good vs. evil in downtown Sacramento

La Pastorela de Sactown will be presented in a way that both English and Spanish speakers will understand.
La Pastorela de Sactown will be presented in a way that both English and Spanish speakers will understand. Courtesy Latino Center of Art and Culture

You may have thought the ultimate battle of good vs. evil played out during our recent national election, no matter which side you were on – but not so fast.

The battle isn’t truly over until the Archangel Miguel sends Lucifer home Pastorela de Sactown-style. The traditional Mexican Christmas celebration, in a version written by San Francisco Mime Troupe veteran Joan Holden, pulls together several theatrical influences for a family entertainment both topical and spiritual.

This year’s Pastorela, produced and presented by the Latino Center of Art and Culture, expands, with performances on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17-18.

Executive director Marie Acosta of the LCAC, formerly known as La Raza Galeria Posada, has focused on re-creating Latino traditions in contemporary ways. Acosta worked with the legendary playwright/actor Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino, which have staged a biennial Pastorela for decades.

“Pastorelas in Mexico are done in so many different ways,” Acosta said. “Some are religious, some are short and funny, some have music, some don’t. Ours is rooted here in Sacramento.”

The main narrative of the Pastorela recreates the biblical passages describing three shepherds making their way to Bethlehem to find the Christ Child. On the journey the shepherds experience a series of challenges put forth by Satan to prevent them from completing their mission. At a crucial moment the Archangel Michael also appears on the shepherds’ behalf.

The plays are performed throughout Mexico with numerous variations to make the productions more locally specific and also to give the plots more topical resonance. The endings are always same the same, though: Good triumphs over evil.

This Pastorela is set in modern-day Sacramento with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus an undocumented immigrant family looking for a place for the night. The shepherds are Flora, a data-entry clerk in the State of California Department of Brown Lawn Enforcement; Campos, a retired janitor who is now a contractor and small landlord; and Junior, who was rising star in the California Assembly but is now consumed in a scandal. The shepherds all have places they’d rather be.

“Our hapless shepherds are sent by an angel who says, ‘You’ve got to help this family that’s in trouble,’ ” Acosta said. “At first the shepherds say, ‘Are you kidding? We don’t have time for this!’ 

An onstage quartet performs original music and songs written by Eduardo Robledo with additional lyrics by musical director Carlos Maria Kandia. The cast includes both community and professional actors.

Acosta thinks La Pastorela could be a broad-based Sacramento holiday event.

“It’s completely bilingual,” Acosta said. “It’s done in a way that whether you understand English or Spanish you’ll understand what’s going on. We want to make it a Sacramento tradition – something people can go to with the other great holiday traditions in this city.”

This year Acosta has partnered with both the Crocker Art Museum and the Sacramento Visitor and Conventions Bureau to push the Pastorela to a larger audience. The museum is offering half-off admissions to patrons who show a Pastorela ticket. The production will give a Christmas ornament made in Mexico to patrons who show they are either a member of the museum or purchased an admission to the Crocker.

Director Wilma Bonet, who has worked with major theater companies throughout California and acted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said this has been a unique experience for her. The production starts out in the street in front of Mayahuel Restaurant on K Street. The procession moves down the block and then heads into the Crest Theatre and up onto the stage.

“I’ve directed many plays but not one where you take reality and put it back onto the stage,” Bonet said.

“It’s based on tradition that’s existed for hundreds of years, but the script is somewhat modernized with issues that are currently happening in the headlines,” Bonet said. “I love that you can combine tradition with what’s going on right now.”

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Fourth Annual La Pastorela de Sactown

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec.17; 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18; Posada procession at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street, Sacramento; procession starts at Mayhuel Restaurant, 12th & K streets, Sacramento

Cost: $5-$15

Information: 916-446-5133 or 916-476-3356,,