A Latino version of “Aesop’s Fables.”
That’s how Woodside resident Mark-Eugene Garcia describes his play “Eight Tales of Pedro,” the big winner of this year’s Unfringed Festival at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, where it is being brought back by popular demand for an 11-performance run beginning today, Oct. 4.
Based on the adventures of folkloric characters Pedro Urdemales and Juan Bobo, the play encompasses two sets of storytellers, some in the present and some in the 17th century, who risk everything for a new life. As the play progresses, their lives and plots intertwine, leading to the same conclusion.
“This play has a lot of heart,” said Richard Mazda, the theater’s artistic director. “It’s poignant and thought-provoking but equally has laughs and warm, human moments.”
And, further setting it apart, it features an all-Latino cast and creative team, a fact that has been receiving much attention, to the wonderment of its director, Rodrigo Ernesto Bolaños.
“It’s actually a little surprising,” he said. “I never thought labeling a team as all-Latino would be important.”
He sees the play as “a piece to share and start a conversation with,” particularly for those who have “no idea what immigrants go through every day.” He hopes it “will remain in their minds.”
Garcia believes the play is particularly relevant today. “We are in a time when pride in our heritage is more important than ever,” he said. “We need a hero to remind us that in heritage there is honor, family and hope. I’ve been looking for a reason to tell the stories.”
It was a comment about his ethnicity, made to him right after the 2016 elections, that “jolted” him in moving forward with the project.
“There was a lot of tension there,” Garcia recalled of the incident.
He had been pondering ways and reasons to tell the stories, having worked on several drafts over a period of about five years, he said. Following the exchange at work, “It fell into place very quickly.”
Further incentive came from Garcia’s “Where do I belong?” self-doubts. “It’s a validation of my own heritage,” he said of the play.
Born to parents of Mexican and Honduran roots, he was raised in Southern California. “I didn’t grow up knowing Spanish,” he said. Now 38, he moved to New York about 15 years ago.
According to Garcia, the cast and creative team collectively represent no fewer than 10 different countries.
The six actors — Germainne Lebron, Kat Pena, Richard E. Calvache, Laura Aguinaga, Stephen Santana and Federico Mallet — collectively play some 20 different characters. With one exception, the cast is the same as that which appeared in the festival.
Original music, which Garcia said plays a large role in the performance, is by Luis D’Elias.
Garcia hopes the play will strike a chord in everyone. “Latinos need reminders of pride and what we can do. Non-Latinos need to see things from that perspective,” he said.
He noticed the play’s effects on audiences from its initial performance at the festival in August. Opening night, with about 25 people in the house, “We went up and had no idea what to expect,” he recalled. It went over so well that he invited everyone he knew to subsequent performances. With positive word of mouth, the subsequent performances had bigger and bigger audiences, Garcia said.
“Everyone seems to be so moved by it,” he said.
Bolaños, originally from El Salvador and now residing in Queens, is delighted that the play is being given continued life at the Secret.
“It was surprising,” he said. “We felt like we had accomplished something good.”
He would like to see further mountings in the future, perhaps at a theater in Manhattan, or a production that could tour area schools. “Art is an educational tool,” he said.
As for this particular play, Bolaños said, “I think it’s for everybody.”