September Shoes

The term "magical realism" is loaded with insinuation, as if it were somehow a greater or lesser version of reality. But by incorporating dreams, memories, archetypal symbols, and synchronicity into the fabric of everyday life, the genre comes closer to replicating human experience than the so-called realism that has dominated western theatre for millenia.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5

From the initial Magritte-inspired impression, in which we see a well-dressed man with an umbrella in a desert graveyard, to the final Judgment Day scenario, in which the names of the dead come to life, José Cruz González' September Shoes challenges us to discover the power of forgiveness.

But foregiveness is no mean feat for residents of and visitors to Dolores. As its name implies, there is a sadness that hangs palpably over the town, where, like the New Mexico site from which it is presumably drawn, more ghosts than people reside.

Photo of John Herrera as Alberto and Karmín Murcelo as Gail
John Herrera as Alberto
and Karmín Murcelo as Gail
Photo: Terry Shapiro
There are the ghosts that haunt Huilo, the caretaker and gravedigger at the cemetary, the ghosts that haunt Cuki, the cleaning lady at the local motel, the ghosts that haunt Alberto, a former resident who moved away and became a successful doctor, and the ghosts that haunt Gail, Alberto's wife, who was also raised in Dolores, and who has returned with her husband to take care of her recently deceased Aunt Lily's belongings.

Photo of Adriana Gaviria as Ana
Adriana Gaviria as Ana
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Then there is the ghost of Ana, Alberto's younger sister turned spirit guide, who serves as a catalyst for his transformation: equal parts poet, dancer, and chanteuse, Adriana Gaviria conjures an ethereal presence as a young girl caught in an eternal time warp between this world and the next.

While she is present throughout, Ana first becomes visible to Alberto in a dream, leading him back to the cemetery where he is forced to confront a seething hatred he has carried since her death.

Though the tension in the play is repeatedly diluted—minimal physical contact between the characters and a presentational quality to their dialogue make them feel as if they are archetypes drifting in a dreamscape—John Herrera develops Alberto from an uptight, gentrified MD to a man who rediscovers the roots of his rural soul.

His wife, too, undertakes a journey. Upon her arrival, Karmin Murcelo's angry and childless Gail finds herself as alienated as her husband, and promises him that they'll only stay for a few days to take care of business. Then, incrementally, we see Gail begin to listen as the local spirits take hold and show her the way home.

As Alberto and Gail's visit begins to stretch from days to weeks, their encounters with Cuki take on the quality of dreams. Cuki, it seems, has the power to tell everything about a person from the feel of their shoes, though she prefers not to wear any herself.

Photo of Wilma Bonet as Cuki and Luís Saguar as Huilo
Wilma Bonet as Cuki
and Luís Saguar as Huilo
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Wilma Bonet delivers a pleasingly quirky performance as the soulful sole-sniffing shoe collector who likens her expropriated leather foot containers to coffins, giving a new, hitherto unexplored, spiritual meaning to reflexology.

Ana, Alberto, Gail, and Cuki all share one connection—their lives are inextricably bound together by a tragedy connected to, Huilo, played by Luis Saguar, who sells us his odd brand of redemption—somewhere between spirituality and dogma—and makes it seem perfectly natural.

As the initially formal elements of the script dissipate, the actors warm up, ultimately providing a pleasant catharsis that is both from the heart and the head—which, though a little diffuse, is nevertheless satisfying. The absolutely stunning images, created by set designer Christopher Acebo and lighting designer Don Darnutzer, that appear periodically throughout the piece play an equal role in this transformational experience.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of September Shoes runs through December 17th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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