June 03, 2009
Canadian playwright Suzanne Lebeau’s metaphorical parable, written in French but presented in this production in Spanish with English supertitles, is full of rich and provocative allegory, but short on theatrical power.
The story has a fairy-tale setting, with a mother (Julieta Ortiz) living on the edge of the woods with her son, Ogrito (Gabriel Romero), a man-sized 6-year-old whose father was a mysterious and massive presence in the village. Ogrito has lived entirely on vegetables and had very little exposure to the outside world until the day comes for him to go to school. There he discovers that, in addition to his huge size, he is otherwise different from the rest of the children. And more ominously, he realizes that he possesses an appetite—not just for meat but for raw flesh.
Ogrito soon learns the terrible secret that his father was an ogre who not only dined on human flesh but had devoured three of his sisters. His mother had kept the secret from him but finally she reveals that Ogrito can overcome his terrible craving by undergoing a series of trials in the woods. In his desperation, Ogrito leaves his mother and sets out to expurgate his terrible appetites.
Lebeau’s text has an appealing simplicity, with its air of magical realism and its provocative themes. It probes the darkest impulses of human nature, presented more starkly in the guise of a 6-year-old, and sketches out the terrible struggle that each of us has between our better angels and the demons that inhabit us. The performances are solid, with Romero finding the man-child core of his character and Ortiz seizing on the anguish of the mother. Director Jesús Castaños-Chima is diligent in finding the dramatic moments in the script, and set designer Keith Mitchell and lighting designer Chris Kuhl create a magical and mysterious arena for the story.
The problem with the play, however, is that it has very little dramatic punch. The relationship between Ogrito and his mother is touching but has only a modicum of conflict. The primary conflict is within Ogrito himself; it’s engaging but not especially dramatic or theatrical.
Presented by and at 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. May 9–June 21. Sat., 8 p.m. and Sun., 3 p.m. (Except Sat., 3 p.m. only June 20.) (213) 745-6516. www.24thstreet.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/63302.