Saturday, June 9, 2018

LUCHADORA! • Mustard Seed Theatre & Theatre Nuevo

If you’ve ever run across an odd item in a relative’s home that you’ve never seen before and wouldn’t in a million years expect to see, it can send your mind racing with the possible stories behind it. In Alvaro Saar Rios’ 2015 memory play, Vanessa finds a wrestling mask in her Nana Lupita’s briefcase, and after a little prodding, the story of that mask, lucha libre or Mexican wrestling, family secrets and the ardent perseverance of girls play out in flashbacks at Fontbonne University, courtesy of Theatre Nuevo and Mustard Seed Theatre.

In late 1960’s Texas where Nana Lupita grew up, she spent her summers selling flowers at her widowed father’s stand so he could give his aching back a rest. When she could get away, she’d ride bikes and eat watermelon with her friends, German immigrants Leo and Liesl. Lupita finds that same mask in her father’s briefcase, and is shocked to learn from a mysterious mask maker that her father is none other than Mascara Rosa, a renowned luchador. With a recent challenge from Mascara Rosa’s nemesis, El Hijo, having been issued, and her father’s health precluding him from answering the call, Lupita decides to enter the world of lucha libre and begin training with the mask maker.

Vanessa (Isabel Garcia) and Nana Lupita (Carmen Garcia).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This predominant theme of bucking the system is spun throughout -- Lupita taking on her training, the mask maker, who trains Lupita because she knows no one else will train girls, Liesl, who would rather fix bikes than ride them, her older sister Hannah, who runs off to join the Army, and Vanessa, who’s got some aspirations of her own, though her boxing bell text-tone gives her away. There’s also the undercurrent of secrecy and the shame of being unmasked in the ring that’s always a threat. The identity of the wrestlers must always be kept secret -- from the fans and sometimes the family, just as daughters keep secrets from their fathers, and fathers from their daughters. And subtle but pervasive German and Mexican folk songs are woven in and out, reflecting a harmonious, multi-ethnic warmth among neighbors and friends that surprises with a wistfully nostalgic gravity all its own.

Leopold (Cassidy Flynn), Father (Rahamses Galvan),
Liesl (Ashley Skaggs) and Lupita (Thalia Cruz).
Photo credit: Mike Snodderley
Anna Skidis Vargas directs with certainty, creating impactful little moments and some nice staging, like the bits of matches that happen in front of us as Nana Lupita watches enthusiastically on her phone from the second level of David Blake’s set. Thalia Cruz’s performance grows in intensity as Lupita. The love she has for her father is clear, and her efforts to try to save him will have you rooting for her as the excitement builds towards the inevitable big match. Isabel Garcia is Vanessa, a teenager typically glued to her cell phone, but engrossed in hearing old family stories, and Carmen Garcia is a nana you could listen to for hours, as Vanessa’s grandmother Lupita. Cassidy Flynn and Ashley Skaggs are well cast as siblings Leo and Liesl, and Hannah Pauluhn is soft-spoken and earnest as their older sister Hannah. Ryan Lawson-Maeske is convincing in a few roles, including an animated ring announcer, and Carl Overly Jr. provides much entertainment as the theatrical, formidable champion, El Hijo.
The Mask Maker (Cassandra Lopez).
Photo credit: Mike Snodderley
Rahamses Galvan’s recollections as Lupita’s father about his days as a migrant worker in the fields and his rise to prominence as a luchador are compelling, and the relationship between father and daughter rings true. Cassandra Lopez is no nonsense as the mask maker who can glimpse the future. She’s tough in her training, but always ready with a thermos of sopa, or soup, that heals all aches and pains. Fight choreographer Mark Kelley includes some nice moves, and the cast handles the grappling, sleeper holds and elbow drop maneuvers well.

Ring Announcer (Ryan Lawson-Maeske),
Mascara Rosa the second (Thalia Cruz)
and El Hijo (Carl Overly, Jr.).
Photo credit: Mike Snodderley
Multi-layered, family-friendly, fun and inspiring, it’s a great way to spend the evening and well worth checking out. It’s running until the 17th.


Written by Alvaro Saar Rios
Directed by Anna Skidis Vargas
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through June 17 | tickets: $15 - $35
Performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 6pm, Sundays at 2pm

Liesl (Ashley Skaggs), Leopold (Cassidy Flynn),
Boy (Ryan Lawson-Maeske), Lupita (Thalia Cruz)
and Boys (Hannah Pauluhn and Carl Overly, Jr.).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Vanessa: Isabel Garcia
Nana Lupita: Carmen Garcia
Lupita: Thalia Cruz
Father: Rahamses Galvan
The Mask Maker: Cassandra Lopez
Leopold: Cassidy Flynn
Liesl: Ashley Skaggs
El Hijo/Blue Luchador/Boy: Carl Overly, Jr.
Hannah/Boy/Yellow Luchador: Hannah Pauluhn
Boy/Ring Announcer/Fight Captain: Ryan Lawson-Maeske

Stage Manager: Gabe Taylor
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
El Hijo (Carl Overly, Jr.).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Scenic Designer: David Blake
Sound Designer: Zoe Sullivan
Costume Designer: Carly Parent
Fight Choreographer: Mark Kelley

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