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Taking in 'Desde el Puente' is time well spent

A celebratory air fills the theater as this year's edition of "Desde el Puente" gets underway in the Manny Fried Playhouse. The Raices Theatre ensemble knows it has something special for its audience.

The annual presentation of 10-minute plays, all written, directed and performed by Raices members, traditionally draws from Latinx culture and experience for its themes. This year's show underscores those themes and adds a special spirit with original musical numbers. The energy is contagious.

The music – whether salsa, merengue, rap or a wedding tango – ties the nine one-acts into a fluid production. Each new scene arrives as smoothly as the turning of a page, our characters taking us from childhood fears to adult anxiety, embracing traditions and defying social expectations.

Raices artistic director Victoria Perez is not kidding when she says in her program notes that they are putting all of their talent center stage. The eight-member cast performs together like they have lived in the same room for a month, switching roles with the slightest change of accessory and daring us to keep up. Alejandro Gomez, for instance, first appears as an insecure rooster in a children's story before becoming a sullen inmate, lascivious rapper, sensitive best friend and Puerto Rican freedom fighter.

Lissette DeJesus starts out as a compassionate frog in a magical closet, then steps into a piece she wrote about a young songwriter finding her own voice after being rejected by the one she loves (played by Alexia Guzman). Before the show ends, she faces down another rejection in the novella-inspired "Good Night, Puto!," this one written by Guzman. Guzman herself finds romance as the bride in a sweet cross-cultural wedding play written by Anthony Alcocer (who, being busy as "Hamlet" at Irish Classical Theatre, is not in this show).

Rolando E. Gomez adds something special to every scene he is in. He makes for quite a cute dieting piglet with the frog and rooster in the closet, and finds his rhythm on the guiro with an inmate band, but none of that prepares the audience for his dramatic, hysterical appearance on the dating show "Llego La Hora," when he literally lets his hair down ... and down and down.

About 180 degrees away from Gomez, at least in looks, we find blond-haired Steve Brachmann, the "blue-eyed devil" who plays a handsome, happy bridegroom and cruel prison guard, followed by semi-idiotic game show contestant and then a distressed buddy in a bromance written by and featuring Alejandro Gomez.

Maria Perez-Gomez, who wrote two of the plays and lyrics for some of the songs, and was one of the directors, also gets stage time as a grounding force in several of the pieces. The same goes for longtime local theater luminary Victoria Perez, who also choreographed dance numbers and wrote a wrenching piece about a couple torn apart by tragedy.

Perez is correct when she says you don't need to be bilingual to enjoy the show. Though it is mostly in English peppered with Spanish slang and colloquialism, one play, by Dewel Perez, is almost entirely in Spanish – depicting a musical ensemble in a prison. Consider it a remarkable example of how much actors can convey by their performances even if you don't understand anything they are saying – we are looking at you, Smirna Mercedes. Whatever you said (and we did catch some of it), your defiant inmate was perfectly clear in what she meant.

Mercedes' emotional and profane inmate was a counterpoint to her appearance as a wanna-be singer on the dating game show. This time there's a language barrier between her character and the entire premise of the show. Not only does this young woman not understand Spanish, she REALLY doesn't understand why anyone would think she needs a man to be fulfilled.

Backing up all the musical numbers is the onstage band, with Kevin Doyle on keyboard and as musical director, Rafael J. Perez on guitar and percussion, and Sara Rodriguez, who also wrote some of the music and lyrics, adding flute along with guitar and percussion. Composer Adrian Guadalupe, who wrote several of the numbers, was in the audience.

***

Theater review

"Desde El Puente" ("From the Bridge")

3.5 stars

The first musical edition of Raices Theatre Company's annual one-act play festival celebrating Latinx culture, mostly in English and entirely enjoyable. Presented in the Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave., third floor (there is an elevator), through May 5, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25; $15 for students and seniors, at 381-9333 or raicestheatrecompany.com.

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