|Shadow play in Ghosts of the River.
â€śThe rio is a ghost of what it used to be, and all the people who live nearby are ghosts.â€ť
But itâ€™s not only a Halloween story. Octavio Solisâ€™ Ghosts of the River are tales of love, loss, courage, and honor for the people who live at the border between Solisâ€™ native El Paso, Texas and Mexico. Defining that border is the Rio Grande River that has swallowed those trying to cross it hoping for a better life (but which often proves to be just as bad or worse than what they left). And the Norte American Dream haunts these six charmingly funny and/or chilling ghost stories.
Solisâ€™ text is presented in collaboration with director Larry Reedâ€™s shadow puppet company ShadowLight productions. On the giant shadow screen, silhouettes of puppets, masked actors, and cutout sets bring to life the extraordinary journeys â€” both physical and interior â€” of the residents, immigrants (legal or otherwise), their families, law enforcement officers and spirits that people the Rio Grande. Even the winding cut-out train, its trestle and the monster thought to guard it are part of the landscape in â€śMonster of the Black Bridge.â€ť
A singer and a guitarist (Arwen Lawrence and Jorge Liceaga, respectively) introduce the evening and set the mood for the puppet play by performing the sensual music of Cascada de Flores. They also sing the entire tale of one attempt at crossing the river in â€śCorrido of the Ghosts.â€ť These bi-lingual performances (with English/Spanish super-titles) start with the darkly humorous â€śThe Other Emilioâ€ť in which mistaken identity and a veiled face hide revenge with startling effect.
One of the most moving stories is the growing relationship between a young boy working as a people-smuggler and the tough female American border agent. As the two tease one another across the river, the distance between them lessens, each learning how to help the other to achieve their goals even into the world beyond the living.
As in all of Solisâ€™ work, the poetic language serves well as he ventures across the borders of cultures, personal egos, the human heart and even the supernatural. In seventy-five short minutes, the nine-member acting ensemble works together flawlessly with the precise skill necessary to give depth and texture to the extremely stylized treatment of this richly rewarding material. Highly recommended.
Ghosts of the River continues (Thursday to Sunday) until Nov. 8 at Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., SF. For tickets ($5-$25) call (415) 647-2822 or at shadowlight.org.