GALA Hispanic Theatre's final production of the season, "Voces Andinas: The Soul of the Highlands," is a magical trip to the heart of the ancient Andes, where indigenous voices, shrouded in silence and sorrow, speak to us through ancient and mysterious instruments.
The two-hour, bilingual performance features Mystic Warriors, a well-known local musical group playing an impressive array of Andean panpipes, flutes, goat hooves, seed pods, charangos (child-size guitars) and more modern instruments to re-create the heart and spirit of the Andean highlands.
Listening to the music of Bolivian cousins Marco and Andres Mallea and Salvadoran Andres Martinez, who have recorded several popular CDs, is like experiencing the lonely sounds of winds sweeping ice-capped mountain peaks, the muffled cry of rainfall, the solemn flight of the condor. A stage background reminiscent of blue sky and clouds adds to the illusion.
The musical selections were woven into an assortment of ancient and modern poems from well-known South American writers, including Pablo Neruda of Chile, Cesar Vallejo of Peru, Franz Tamayo of Bolivia and Jorge Enrique Adoum of Ecuador.
Although some of the selections were long and, at times, difficult to understand, a few were gems, like Chilean Oscar Hahn's poem "La Muerte Esta Sentada a los Pies de Mi Cama" ("Death Is Sitting at the Foot of My Bed"). The bone-chilling poem is performed first in English by actress Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez, who invites Death, her male lover, to join her in bed. Actor Carlos Castillo follows with an equally transfixing performance of the same poem in Spanish.
Most impressive were several opening selections, including two from Peru of unknown origin, that pay homage to the indigenous concept of God. The poems are performed in the original Quechua language, Spanish and English. Hart-Gonzalez, a professor and scholar of Quechua who coached the other GALA actors in the indigenous tongue, said various Quechua dialects are spoken throughout Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and elsewhere in South America.
At one point in the show, Hart-Gonzalez joins the Mystic Warriors, singing along in Quechua and playing a charango made from the back of an armadillo. "The legend is that the armadillo took a nap and when he woke up found he'd been transformed into charango," she said. "That is why the charango is said to wagay, which is the Quechua word for cry."
While "Voces Andinas" at times conveys a didactic tone, overall it manages to carry us up and away to the heart of the Andes.
Voces Andinas: The Soul of the Highlands, directed by Abel Lopez, at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 1625 Park Rd. NW, through June 13. For tickets and information, call 202-234-7174.