LA Stage Blog Review of El Ogrito

24th St. Theatre Offers Play in Spanish for Young Audiences

LA Stage Blog Review by Julio Martinez |  June 8, 2009

El Ogrito plays Sat., June 13 at 8 pm; Sat.-Sun., June 20-July 23 at 3 pm. Tickets: Adults, $15; children, $7. 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. 213.745.6516 or go to brownpapertickets.com/event/63302 or 24thstreet.org.

On the surface, El Ogrito (The Ogreling) deals with some fairly dark subject matters for a stage play originally designed for young audiences. However, actor Gabriel Romero affirms, “It’s really a sweet story about a boy coming to terms with who he is and what he needs to do in order to belong in the world.”

Romero portrays the title character in this Spanish language stage production, having its US premiere at the 24th Street Theatre. The production features a two-character cast, Mexican-born Romero and Julieta Ortiz, directed by Jesus Castanos-Chima, director of the LA based Apolo Theater Company.

Penned by Canadian playwright Suzanne Lebeau, the play chronicles the coming-of-age of a boy, half human, half ogre, struggling to overcome his animalistic instincts. The winner of Canada’s 2000 Prix Masque Award and translated into eight languages, El Ogrito probes the monster within all of us. The 24th Street Theatre production is adapted from the original French, featuring a Spanish translation by Cecelia Iris Fasola, and presented with projected English super titles.

“I play the boy’s very protective mother,” says Ortiz. “She struggles to maintain what she thinks will protect her and her son in today’s world while striving to prepare him for what she hopes he will eventually achieve in life.”

Romero adds, “In the beginning, it’s all just about a guileless child discovering the world. It’s all a game, as it is for most children. But as he begins to mature, the ogre instincts he inherited from his father begin to emerge, making him too dangerous to live among normal humans. The beauty of Lebeau’s play lies in her empathy for the child’s struggle and the wonderfully creative way she handles his evolution into society.”

Julieta Ortiz in El Ogrito

“Playing his mother is very emotionally challenging,” affirms Ortiz. “On the one hand, she is a very loving and proud mother who wants him to emerge and lead a happy life. So, she sends him off to school when he is six years old. At the same time, she is constantly on guard because she doesn’t want the world to touch him or him to touch the world because she is so fearful of his heritage.”

El Ogrito, which continues through June 21, is presented as part of  the Teatro Nuevo Internacional program, an extension of 24th Street’s extensive neighborhood and international cultural outreach. In that capacity, the production traveled to Mexico (Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali) in May for the Festival Universitario de Teatro de la Universidad Autonoma de Baja California. This fall, 24th Street will tour the show to El Salvador as a cultural envoy of the US State Department. This will be the company’s third trip as cultural envoys to El Salvador, where they have toured productions, taught classes and worked with the El Salvador Youth Symphony.

El Ogrito is a play for anyone eight or older,” declares Romero, who starred as Marco in the daytime drama Dante’s Cove as well as the critically acclaimed Spanish-language sitcom Los Beltrán on Telemundo. “Lebeau trusts she can communicate universal truths without dumbing down the themes for children.”

“Our director, Jesus Castanos-Chima, has created a magical world for us to perform these wonderful characters,” adds Ortiz, who began her stage career in Mexico City and starred in the award-winning Showtime movie Dirt, earning her the Actress Award at the La Cinema Fe Festival in New York.