Bah humbug with a Latino accent
Austin actor, playwright puts a spin on a favorite Christmas tale at the Rollins Studio Theatre
Though he's spent more three decades as a playwright, actor, producer and all around mover-and-shaker of Latino and Chicano theater, Rupert Reyes has a sentimental spot for Charles Dickens' very Victorian "A Christmas Carol," arguably the most quintessential Anglo holiday play.
Back when he was a high school student in Manor, the role of Ebenezer Scrooge was the first for the 58-year-old Austin theater veteran.
"It was all period costumes and English accents and the works," recalls Reyes, the artistic director of Teatro Vivo. "But I just loved it. And I've just always loved the power of Dickens' storytelling."
And so it was to Dickens and "A Christmas Carol" that Reyes turned for "Cuento Navideño: Bah Humbug in the Barrio," his latest play which opens Dec. 8 at the Long Center's Rollins Studio Theatre.
Performed in Teatro Vivo's signature mix of Spanish and English, "Cuento Navideño" is Reyes' family-friendly contemporary re-visioning of the tale of the mean and stingy businessman Scrooge who, thanks to a little ghostly intervention, undergoes a transformation and becomes a compassionate and charitable man.
For his version, Reyes changed Ebenezer Scrooge into Evangelina Cruz, a hard-nosed, selfish businesswoman who has lost touch with her family, her culture and her connection to the community.
A Christmas Eve visit from the ghost of her business partner — the once equally greedy, Teodora — sets Evangelina on a journey to look at her life choices, and make changes so that she can be close to her family and take care of those in need.
Reyes says that in the writing of "Cuento Navideño," he pared down some of the narrative detours of Dickens' original story, instead putting the emphasis on the essential story itself.
Accenting Reyes' direct, modern storytelling, the production doesn't rely too much on elaborate sets and costumes, but rather quick-moving scenes augmented by video projections.
But to add a bit of holiday fun and cheer, each performance will have a surprise guest star who gets a cameo in a party dance scene. Austin City Council member Mike Martinez as well as Austin dancer and choreographer Roen Salinas are among the local community leaders, elected officials and other celebrities who will appear.
For Reyes, theater is a family affair. With wife Jo Ann Carreon-Reyes, he founded the Teatro Vivo theater company in 2000. And as she has in past productions, daughter Anya has a role in "Navideño" and so does 14-month-old granddaughter Amelia.
With many of the 10-member cast playing multiple parts in the episodic story and with a few scenes requiring a crowd, little Amelia just fit right in.
Dickens' tale of moral and emotional transformation might be more than a century and a half old, but Reyes says its moral is timely now with much of the population struggling in the economic downturn.
"People who have, need to be concerned for those people who don't have," says Reyes. "It's a message that's important today."
"Cuento Navideño: Bah Humbug in the Barrio"