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Review: THE MAGICAL PINATA at Keegan Theatre

Review: THE MAGICAL PINATA at Keegan Theatre
L-R Leigh Corbett, Ruth Elizabeth Diaz, and Andres Alejandro in the Keegan Theatre production of The Magical Piñata.
Photo by Mike Kozemchak.

A great deal is packed into The Magical Piñata. There's a brief explanation of where Mexico's population comes from; a smattering of spoken Spanish and songs in both Spanish and English; pratfalls; a morality tale; and lots of laugher.

The play is set in two places, the Mexican town of Zapotoco and a Magical Jungle.

By and large, all the elements hold together, thanks to a book and lyrics by Karen Zacarias. and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma.

The story, though described as "an original play with music," is a little like the children's classic book Alexander and the No Good Very Bad Day. Only in The Magical Piñata, the misfortune of the protagonist stems from internal reasons.

Poor Cucha, played by Ruth Elizabeth Diaz, is having a bad time. It's her birthday, and none of the friends she invited to her party are coming. She doesn't like any of her presents. One that keeps popping up is plain, or so it seems, clay pottery. One thing the self-centered girl but lonely girl likes to do is whine, and Diaz does it very effectively. Yet, under that she conveys a sense of wonder in the making.

In A Christmas Carol mode, Cucha encounters figures representing the future, present, and past, who teach her to look at life a little differently. It's not a particularly original message. What makes it charming is the cultural background and the fact a piñata gets hit in the end.

The set, by Matthew J. Keenan, consists mostly of drapes and gift boxes, but it takes on a particularly inventive turn when the drapes turn into "swings" for the Monkey King (Andres Alejandro) and his Sidekick (Leigh Corbett). The limberness of Alejandro, who also plays the Father, is impressive -- he looks like a cross between a swinging simian and an acrobat.

Though her sometime boss doesn't undergo a change, Leigh Corbett, as his sidekick, does. With outsized motions and screams.

Danie Rodriguez has a yeoman's job, portraying the Kid, Senior Cumpleanos, a burro, arbol, Chapulin, and a a parrot. Nitya Ramlogan provided the colorful costume and puppet design.

Elena Velasco both directed and choreographed the show. Walter "Bobby" McCoy and Marika Countouris were co-music directors.

The Magical Piñata is part of the Keegan Theatre's Play-Rah-Ka program -- that's Gaelic for "revelry.'' PRK offers both theatrical experiences for families and creative exploration to help empower young people and emerging artists.

The theater, which largely has an Irish tinge, said it wanted to do The Magical Piñata to be diverse. It's notable that the audience at this review performance was diverse well. There were a few infants, children of many ages with adults, and older adults without children.

As one parent left, she said to the theater staff it was a relief not to have another Nutcracker. I like Nutcrackers fine, but it is nice to have other types of holiday-time entertainment.

Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission.

The Magical Piñata runs through December 30, 2019 at Keegan Theatre which is located at 1742 Church Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.

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