San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Puppets Tell Afro-Caribbean Folk Tales

MOSEYING, dancing, trick-playing,flopping and curling up for story time fromriveted joints, 20 computer-designed, flatmarionettes cavort in front ofmosaic, stylized Caribbeanbackdrops recountingthe adventures of Anancy,the human spider,at the Teatro Molièrein San José.The hour-longproduction showcasesfolktales fromthe Caribbean withAfrican roots, borrowingmusic andprofessional talentfrom Costa Rica’sCaribbean coast.In the show entitled“El Prodigioso Viaje deAnancy, la Araña Humana”(The Marvelous Journey ofAnancy, the Human Spider), thepuppets prance and speak with thehelp of 13 professional vocalists andactors, including Roberto McLean fromthe multiple award-winning Costa Ricanfeature-length movie “Caribe,” who playsAnancy. Some of the musical sets areoriginal calypso tunes that writhe in theirown homegrown authenticity, recorded bythe nationally acclaimed but unspoiled by-pretensions Walter Ferguson.Anancy, a figure from Afro-Caribbeanfolktales told throughout Latin America,is half dreadlockedRasta man, halfspider – and abroke thug. Thanksto his shrewdness andquick wit, he getswhatever he wants.The story opens infront of a modern-dayhouse in the Caribbeanport city of Limón. A parrot swoops ontothe scene, the hands of the puppet operatorsoccasionally dipping into view. Theparrot narrator tells the story to a youngAfro-Caribbean girl who curls up cutely tolisten. A colorful Jamaican backdropunfurls behind them, and a hungry Anancytakes on a job with the suited corporatecutthroat, Brother Tiger.He tricks Tiger and hisdopey employee, BrotherMonkey, out of bushels offruits and other foods,which he eats, ratherthan sells, in Tiger’sshop. The jig is upwhen Tiger arrives atthe shop and seesMonkey and Anancyrecovering from a nightlongeating binge, andhe threatens to eat them.So, Anancy jumps ona ship bound for Limón,where a new banana-companyrailway under constructionis rumored to be on thelookout 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” – becausehe grabs Anancy andother intruders in hiscrabby clutches andwhirls them around, sendingthem flying to a hard landingon other parts of the island.After some adventures with a bandof unfortunate pirates, Girar throwsAnancy to another island, wherehe continues his epic series of adventureswith normally inanimate objectsthat magically talk and frighten theislanders. The islanders come to him foradvice – Anancy’s advice to an oldwoman who can’t interest a man is thatshe look for an older man – and he honeshis wily means of tricking people out offood and avoiding work.Finally, Anancy reaches Limón, whereTiger has since moved, set up businessand become ajudge. He sentencesAnancy to the fateof becoming hisdinner, but thegreat Queen of theEarth intervenes,admonishing Tigerto relax and orderingAnancy to dedicate hislife 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 trickerymight also rub uncomfortable on conscientiousviewers who object to the propagationof such stereotypes of the Afro-Caribbean community.The subplots are based on historicalresearch by Costa Rican author DiegoAndrés Soto, gleaned from oral traditionand books by Quince Duncan and JoiceAnglin.Theater and movie producer GabrielGonzález-Vega congealed the puppetplay into a polished production with adigital-impression backdrop of a houseand scenery from the Caribbeancoastal province ofLimón.Producciones Lunanegratheater group presentsthe show, which opened lastmonth and is sponsored by theUniversity of Costa Rica and theSpanish 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 theaterand anywhere in the country can bearranged upon request. For information,call Gabriel González-Vega at 398-2383or 253-1866.

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