Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Puppets Tell Costa Rica Afro-Caribbean Folk Tales

May 24, 2020

MOSEYING, dancing, trick-playing,flopping and curling up for story time fromriveted joints, 20 computer-designed, flat marionettes cavort in front of mosaic, stylized Caribbean backdrops recounting the adventures of Anancy, the human spider, at the Teatro Molièrein San José.The hour-long production showcases folktales from the Caribbean with African roots, borrowing music andprofessional talentfrom Costa Rica’sCaribbean coast.

In the show entitled “El Prodigioso Viaje deAnancy, la Araña Humana” (The Marvelous Journey ofAnancy, the Human Spider), the puppets prance and speak with the help of 13 professional vocalists andactors, including Roberto McLean fromthe multiple award-winning Costa Ricanfeature-length movie “Caribe,” who plays Anancy.

Some of the musical sets areoriginal calypso tunes that writhe in theirown homegrown authenticity, recorded by the nationally acclaimed but unspoiled by-pretensions Walter Ferguson.Anancy, a figure from Afro-Caribbean folktales told throughout Latin America,is half dreadlocked Rasta man, half spider – and a broke thug. Thanks to his shrewdness and quick wit, he gets whatever he wants.

The story opens in front of a modern-dayhouse in the Caribbeanport city of Limón. A parrot swoops onto the scene, the hands of the puppet operators occasionally dipping into view. The parrot narrator tells the story to a young Afro-Caribbean girl who curls up cutely to listen. A colorful Jamaican backdrop unfurls behind them, and a hungry Anancy takes on a job with the suited corporate cutthroat, Brother Tiger.

He tricks Tiger and hisdopey employee, BrotherMonkey, out of bushels offruits and other foods,which he eats, ratherthan sells, in Tiger’s shop. The jig is up when Tiger arrives at the shop and sees Monkey and Anancy recovering from a night long eating binge, and he threatens to eat them. So, Anancy jumps on a ship bound for Limón, where a new banana-company railway under construction is rumored to be on the lookout for workers.

The ship founders,and Anancy washes ashore on one of theAntilles islands, this one under the dizzyingregime of Brother Girar. Girar’s parentsnamed him well – his name is theSpanish verb for “spin” – because he grabs Anancy andother intruders in hiscrabby clutches and whirls them around, sending them flying to a hard landingon other parts of the island. After some adventures with a band of unfortunate pirates, Girar throwsAnancy to another island, wherehe continues his epic series of adventureswith normally inanimate objects that magically talk and frighten the islanders.

The islanders come to him for advice – Anancy’s advice to an oldwoman who can’t interest a man is thatshe look for an older man – and he hones his wily means of tricking people out of food and avoiding work. Finally, Anancy reaches Limón, where Tiger has since moved, set up businessand become a judge. He sentences Anancy to the fate of becoming hisdinner, but the great Queen of theEarth intervenes, admonishing Tiger to relax and orderingAnancy to dedicate his life to helping the poor.

For folk-tale and cultural-traditionaficionados, the show could be considereda condensation of the building blocks ofAfro-Caribbean values. But Anancy’saversion to work and love of trickery might also rub uncomfortable on conscientious viewers who object to the propagation of such stereo types of the Afro-Caribbean community.The subplots are based on historical research by Costa Rican author Diego Andrés Soto, gleaned from oral traditionand books by Quince Duncan and Joice Anglin.

Theater and movie producer GabrielGonzález-Vega congealed the puppet play into a polished production with a digital-impression backdrop of a houseand scenery from the Caribbeancoastal province of Limón. Producciones Lunanegra theater group presents the show, which opened last month and is sponsored by the University of Costa Rica and the Spanish Cultural Center, among others.

Show times are Sundays at 11 a .m.and 3 p.m. Tickets cost ¢1,200 ($2.75).For more information, call 223-5420 or255-2694. Special performances in the theater and anywhere in the country can bearranged upon request. For information, call Gabriel González-Vega at 398-2383 or 253-1866.

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