El Semanario
Posted on 02-05-2009

Su Teatro celebrates Rudolfo Anaya

By John Kuebler

Beginning February 12, Su Teatro will be bringing to life the landmark work of Chicano literature, Bless Me, Ultima, while paying homage to the story’s creator, Rudolfo Anaya.

The theater company will present Anaya’s own adaptation of his novel in a workshop production directed by master theater instructor Jennifer McCray Rincon and featuring an ensemble cast led by Su Teatro veteranos Angel Mendez-Soto as the villainous Tenorio and the indomitable Yolanda Ortega as Ultima.

The play kicks off a spring-long company celebration of Anaya’s great coming-of-age novel. Through a partnership with The Big Read, a major initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Su Teatro will present dramatic readings, community reading circles, a special panel and film about Rudolfo Anaya at the XicanIndie FilmFest, and a creative response to Anaya’s work featured in the Tacos and Words Literary Salon at the Neruda Poetry Festival.

Su Teatro Artistic Director Anthony J. García once called Rudolfo Anaya “the Dean of Chicano literature,” and the designation fits. Bless Me, Ultima earned Anaya the Premio Quinto Sol Literary Award, and the author has gone on to receive such honors as the American Book Award, the PEN-West Fiction Award, and the NEA National Medal of Arts.

In Bless Me, Ultima, his pioneering work, Anaya taps into the magic of childhood with poetic elegance. Torn between his mother’s earthy farming family and his father’s wild vaquero brothers, young Antonio finds a wondrous middle ground in his relationship with the wise old curandera, Ultima.

“I have often been asked to adapt some of my novels for the stage,” Anaya said. “The favorite is Bless Me, Ultima. This summer I had time. The first draft was just an outline, but as I worked on fleshing it out I began to have dreams which inspired me. I felt quite renewed in my efforts because the dreams were lending me wonderful insights. I wrote all summer to arrive at the present draft.”

It’s no surprise that dreams guided the playwright in his adaptation—they also play prominently into the story. Director Rincon has embraced the challenges of walking the line between dream and reality. “From the beginning, I had a feeling that it would be important for people to listen to the language of this play,” Rincon said. “This workshop production will engage everyone’s imagination—theater and non-theater audiences alike. The words and the way the audience perceives them are essential—like sitting around a campfire, listening to a story.”

The Big Read is an initiative of the NEA, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture. Su Teatro is one of five Big Read participants in Colorado, and the only participant in Denver, where Latino’s make up an estimated 35% of the city’s population. Su Teatro chose to design its Big Read project around Bless Me, Ultima both as a tribute to Anaya and to reflect that demographic.

Recently named a recipient of the 2008 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Su Teatro has a longstanding relationship with Anaya. The company has previously presented two of his plays: Ay Compadre and Who Killed Don José?

“The Denver area should be proud to have such committed talent,” Anaya said. “When Tony called and asked about the Bless Me, Ultima script I was delighted to have Su Teatro workshop it. I encourage the Denver community to get to the play and to support the effort. Su Teatro has certainly earned through sheer persistence and hard work all the kudos it deserves.”

Bless Me, Ultima begins Feb. 12-18, Thurs. at 7pm; Fri. and Saturdays at 8:05pm, El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High St. On Feb. 13,The Big Read kickoff event for educators and participants and Feb. 14, Día de San Valentín dinner and a special performance of Bless Me, Ultima. For info. 303/296-0219.