By John Lyle Belden
The Spanish word leyenda can be translated to mean legend; in the new play “Leyenda,” on the main stage of the Phoenix Theatre through May 1, the meaning is closer to folk or fairy tale.
This world premiere work was written by Phoenix playwright-in-residence Tom Horan with producing director Bryan Fonseca, using traditional Latino tales, each with its own moral.
Bridgette Richards plays a sort of Latina Scheherezade, telling a cruel ruler story after story to keep him from growing dissatisfied and killing her. To extend the drama (and her life) she doesn’t give the endings right away, leading to a layered narrative that is still easy to follow.
Richards and fellow cast members Jean Arnold, Paeton Chavis, A.J. Morrison and Keith Potts act out the stories with the help of colorful costumes, masks, some dancing and even puppetry.
The dialogue is best described as “Spanglish” – but with enough English mixed in for non-Spanish speakers to follow (one story, “Coazones de Fuego/Hearts of Fire,” is almost entirely in Spanish, but is mostly “told” in dance). One tale even features an English-speaker who struggles with Spanish, a welcome reflection of the audience’s possible difficulties.
This show is not only an excellent view into Latin American culture, but also a revelation of how universal some stories are, as we find aspects of tales we’ve heard from other sources, like Aesop or the Brothers Grimm. A few moments, like appearances of El Cucoy (the Bogeyman), get intense, but otherwise this play is good for all ages.
Performances are Thursdays through Sundays, and April 30 and May 1 shows will be entirely in Spanish. For more information and tickets, call 317-635-7529 or see phoenixtheatre.org.
(Also posted at The Word)