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ASU playwright’s Latino Christmas play takes bizarre, amusing turns

December 08, 2006

A Latin-themed Christmas play with unusual Arizona twists – written, directed and produced by an Arizona State University faculty member – will be performed in Mesa this weekend, including cameo appearances by television newscaster Catherine Anaya, former gubernatorial candidate Alfredo Gutierrez, and other local celebrities.

James Garcia, a lecturer at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on ASU’s West campus, created “La Pastorela: The Shepherds’ Odyssey,” which he describes as a local adaptation of a centuries-old, quasi-secular Latino Christmas tale. The play combines music, dance and comedy in a modern retelling of the journey of a shepherd family who sets off for Bethlehem, first on foot and then via the Phoenix light-rail system, to see the baby Jesus.

“Through the magic of theater and time travel, this pastorela (a Spanish word meaning shepherds’ story) starts off south of the Arizona-Mexican border in the Sonoran Desert,” Garcia said. “Our shepherds, the Hernandez family, meet an array of odd characters along the way. “Bartolo, a curandero (or faith healer) who communicates with God through his iPod, is the family’s guide. There are Harry and Monty Dystal, a couple of traveling salesmen, and La Sirena, a seductive dance instructor. And, of course, the Virgin of Guadalupe, who plays Uno.”

The cast of 15 includes Marcelino Quinonez, an ASU theater major, as El Diablo. Quinonez was featured recently in Garcia’s “Voices of Valor” at ASU Gammage and in “Chuy” at the Herberger Theater Center.

Joining Anaya and Gutierrez for cameo appearances are television personality Johnny Dilone and civil-rights attorney Danny Ortega.

“This is a music-laced, fun-for-the-whole-family comedy,” Garcia said. “It’s a mix of the traditional and modern. Think Mexican folklore meets ‘Saturday Night Live’.”