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Photo by Pat Kirk

Angelic Moment: Dena Martinez (left),Vilma Silva and Soren Oliver in "La Posada Magica," now playing at San José Rep

SJ Rep presents a different kind of seasonal entertainment

By Anne Gelhaus

Unlike a lot of the holiday "entertainment"--the kind that grabs you by the tear ducts and squeezes--the San José Repertory Theatre's production of La Posada Magica is quietly poignant. Playwright Octavio Solis' story of Gracie, a girl who loses her faith on Christmas Eve, is touching without being overwrought. Anytime things threaten to get maudlin, Solis throws in a corny joke or some broad physical humor to lighten the mood, a tactic that makes watching Gracie's attempts to sabotage her church's Posada both amusing and affecting.

Dena Martinez is luminous as Gracie, a teenager grieving over the death of her younger brother. Like most teens, Gracie takes out her grief and anger on those around her, but Martinez makes it clear that her character is acting more out of confusion than malice, a point that must be emphasized to keep the audience's sympathy for the girl.

After Gracie reluctantly joins her church's Posada--a processional held in many Mexican-American communities to commemorate Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem--she sets about trying to extinguish not only the candle that has been lit in her honor but those that represent the other members of her group. With each flame she blows out, another character disappears, until Gracie is left lost and alone. It takes some magical plot devices to get her back home, but by the time she gets there, her hurt has started healing.

Even without its mystical qualities, the show could stand as a playful homage to La Posada; it's a nice way to introduce the uninitiated to the tradition, and it will probably stir some memories for those who have taken part in such a processional. Marcos Loya has penned songs that go a long way toward setting the mood of the play, and the audience is drawn further into the story by singing along with the cast on several tunes.

Although La Posada Magica is by no means a full-scale musical, most of the cast members are called upon to sing as well as act, with decent results overall. Jesus Mendoza proves a triple-threat performer--and a pretty good Elvis impersonator--during his solo number, "Lovin' Santa." On a more serious note, Vilma Silva and Soren Oliver as Mary and Joseph harmonize beautifully on "Dirge."

In his program notes, playwright Solis writes that his play is for "those who can't rejoice, who feel no cause to join the carols." He wanted to remind people that tragedy can strike any time of year, and that this season is as much about compassion as it is about joy. San José Repertory Theatre conveys this message nicely through its production.

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From the Dec. 14-20, 1995 issue of Metro

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