The ninth American College Theater Festival got off to a novel start yesterday at the Kennedy Center.
"Historias para ser contadas" ("Stories to be Told"), a work in Spanish and English, held forth twice at the Eisenhower, an offering of La Compania Teatro Bilingue of Texas A. & I. University, Kingsville.
In the Chautauqua Tent on the Roof Terrace, Cornell University presented "Meg," Paula Vogel's winning play in the ACTF playwriting competition.
Today the productions will shift theaters, with performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
"Historias" is a 21-year-old work by Argentina's Osvaldo Dragun, virtually unknown in North America. Three stories are told in the translation by the university's Joe and Chelita Rosenberg, performed in what Dragun calls "choral theater," a style very like Paul Sills' "story theater," with the players acting out a string of incidents and characters after stated introductory narrative.
The form depends strongly on its performers, and this campus of 6,000 students clearly has at least four capable young artists: Ruby Nelda Perez, Luis Munoz, Jose Trevino and J. Ed Araiza.
Before the single intermission, we watch the Spanish versions and watch, to most of us, is the accurate verb. One gets the basic notions about "The Man Who Had a Gum Abcess," the family who sold rat meat to Africans and the unemployed fellow who could only get a job as a watchdog.
As Perez remarks in her introduction, these are players who tell "your stories marketplace to marketplace, the singers of your songs." The post-interval English versions make it possible for the non-Spanish speaking to see where or how one has guessed rightly or wrongly about the meaning.
The three works all show Dragun to be a writer imaginative and skilled in finding the whimsical bite of the poor who view their intense poverty through humor.
The actor who portrayed "The Man Who Had a Gum Abcess" is an especially impressive performer, with mercurial drive and intensity which made not only this but all his characters dynamic, shifting with impressive, instant assurance from one personality to another.
As director, Rosenberg has commanding belief in the bilingual approach, though I did feel that had the English immediately followed the Spanish in each story the effects might have been more striking.