Democracy Dies in Darkness

Theater & Dance | Review

Pointless Theatre’s slapdash ‘Don Cristóbal’

August 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Paz Lopez and Thais Menendez in “Don Cristóbal” by Pointless Theatre. (Mark Williams Hoelscher Photography/)

A slide whistle. A xylophone. At least one kazoo. These instruments provide sound effects in “Don Cristóbal,” Pointless Theatre’s adaptation of a Federico García Lorca puppet play. Supplied by performers standing near a puppet theater, the acoustic punctuation adds zest to the cheerfully violent and ribald escapades of the eponymous puppet, a truncheon-wielding antihero.

Unfortunately, other sequences in this frustrating “Don Cristóbal” do not register with the clarity and effectiveness of the slide-whistle-enriched instrumentals. Billed as “a twisted tale of bilingual barbs and billy clubs,” the show is performed in English and Spanish, but insufficient provision has been made for theatergoers who may not be fluent in one of the languages (there are no supertitles). At times, one character will translate another’s remarks, but when that service is absent, it is not always possible to discern meaning from context. Moreover, the acting/puppeteering style occasionally displays too little precision, lapsing at one point into slapdash rough­housing/yelling mode.

Mining Spanish folk-art tradition, Lorca wrote several puppet plays, including “El Retablillo de Don Cristóbal (The Little Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal),” the source text for this production, co-directed by Rachel Menyuk and Eric Swartz. The directors and Pointless co-artistic director Patti Kalil have freely adapted Lorca’s script, generating a puppet saga that veers into a comical, paranoid hallucinatory quest.

A troupe of artists including the Director (Thais Menendez) and the Poet (Paz Lopez) are mounting a puppet play starring Don Cristóbal (Matthew Sparacino), a figure comparable to Punch of “Punch and Judy” fame. After Don Cristóbal discovers indiscretions by his lusty wife, Rosita (Vanessa Chapoy), he murders her mother (Adrianne Knapp). Then, suddenly, the Director finds herself inside the story, accused of being Don Cristóbal, in a dreamscape patrolled by gendarmes (Knapp and Adrian Iglesias).

Puppets with blocky heads and hands, manipulated by visible puppeteers, initially represent Don Cristóbal’s circle. Later, the puppet characters get human embodiment, and then amusing sock-puppet treatment. (Francisco Benavides is puppet designer.) Mel Bieler designed the set, dominated by the puppet theater, which spins to become a Picasso-evoking dream space.

Chapoy is diverting as the perkily wanton Rosita, sporting a pink dress with a grotesquely large bustline. (Frank Labovitz designed the costumes.) Menendez’s Director has some flair, and Lopez is a vibrant presence as the Poet, whose identity blurs with Lorca’s.

Disappointingly, my own language skills weren’t up to the flights of Spanish that the Poet reels off at various points, leaving me with the sense that swaths of ideas, information and (given the Lorca pedigree) poetry were going over my head. The sensation wasn’t as bad as being thumped by a truncheon, but it was plenty exasperating.

Don Cristóbal, adapted from a Federico García Lorca puppet play by Patti Kalil, Rachel Menyuk and Eric Swartz. Directed by Menyuk and Swartz; props design, Amy Kellett; lighting, Niomi Collard; sound, Evan Cook; fight director, Lex Davis. With Scott Whalen. 90 minutes. Tickets: $18-$30. Through Sept. 8 at Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th St. NW. Visit pointlesstheatre.com.

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