Though Alajuela is the second largest city in Costa Rica, it has never been a serious theater town. A few theater workshops or troupes and some short-lived theater groups have made the circuit sporadically, but now, with a permanent theater resurrected by the municipality, a permanent dramatist directing and two theater groups waiting in the wings, the city northwest of San José is ready for the shows to begin.
Directing this new era for Alajuela is playwright Jorge Arroyo, an alajuelense whose plays and books have won national and international awards and whose ambitious work, “Tertulia de los Espantos,” opened the theater’s premier season.
Situated in the center of town, one block from the Central Park and facing JuanSantamaríaPlaza, the theater was built in 1956 to replace an earlier theater and ballroom built on the site in the early 1900s that once housed plays, orchestras and balls from the glamorous art deco period. But for most of the past 50 years the building has been idle and boarded up, used occasionally for programs or as dressing rooms for street activities.
Now totally refurbished and dressed up as part of the civic program Alajuela 2010, the building has been restructured to meet modern building codes and to provide comfortable seating and elegant lobbies for theater patrons – 21st-century elegance with a 19th-century touch. A European-style café will soon enhance theater evenings.
During last week’s grand opening for an invitation-only audience, the theater’s lights went on for the first performance of “Tertulia de los Espantos” (“Gathering of Ghosts”), an original drama that brings together the legends and lore, much of it scary, of each of the provinces of Costa Rica. This gathering of the cart without oxen, the headless priest, El Cadejos (the man turned dog) and other spirits that haunt Tico lore makes up a multifaceted work tied together with narration and marionettes.
Featured are 29 actors from two drama groups, Teatro Carpe Diem, directed by Marcos Araya, and Grupo Sombrero Rojo, led by Rodolfo Oreamuno.
One of the stars on opening night, Jan. 30, was President Oscar Arias, who praised the city of Alajuela for its vision in recuperating not only the building but also the Costa Rican “culture and history formed by our ancestors,” adding that this may spur the recuperation of a dispersed and isolated society by encouraging people to come together in town centers to enjoy their culture.
Regular performances of “Tertulia” begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday through next weekend. Admission is ¢2,000 ($3.80), ¢1,500 ($2.90) for students with school ID and ¢1,000 ($1.90) for older adults. Tickets are available at the ticket booth from 4 to 7 p.m. on performance days. Advance reservations may be made by calling 436-2362.
Matinee children’s programs and “Golden Wednesday” performances for senior citizens are scheduled for later in the season.
Future programs will feature local, national and international artists.