From the moment he enters the auditorium, Juan Cuentacuentos gushes energy. Dressed as a medieval jester, he bounces down the aisle, struggles to lift himself onto the stage, solicits the help of a random patron and plucks up a guitar. He strums and sings. He makes fart jokes. He plays call-and-response with the audience – and the kids love it.
“Cuentos de Reyes”(“Tales of Kings”) plays until the end of the month at the Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría, and it does not permit dull moments. Performed in Spanish for children and parents, “Reyes”is an excitable mix of clowning, interactive musical numbers and elegant animation sequences projected on a screen. Juan Cuentacuentos (roughly: “John Tale-Teller”) dominates the stage, accompanied by two minstrel assistants.
“Cuentacuentos” is the alter ego of Juan Madrigal Rodríguez, a polymath performer who wrote, directed and stars in “Reyes.” A native Costa Rican, Rodríguez trained at the Studio of Scenic Arts at the National University and has presented his unique brand of storytelling around the world. (Rodríguez is accustomed to high-octane showcases: his comic rendition of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”required him to play 12 different characters).
If you didn’t skip kindergarten entirely, you will probably be familiar with a couple of Rodríguez’s stories: “El Satrecillo Valiente” is “The Valliant Little Tailor,” by the Brothers Grimm. “El Rey Midas” is “King Midas.” But other stories will be less familiar: “El Cuento de Rey Burgués” is attributed to the Nicaraguan writer Mario Montenegro, and “La Niña y La Luna” is a less-known European folktale about a young girl’s relationship with the moon.
The Museum hosts regular matinee shows for families, of which “Reyes”is the latest, and publicity posters for the show are pasted all over Alajuela. Although last Sunday’s 11 a.m. show coincided with the Día de la Independencia parade, it was still well attended. Children sang along with Cuantocuentos and parents clapped to his beat.
While “Reyes”is performed entirely in Spanish, the play is perfect for students or expats with young children. Meanwhile, the true value of “Reyes”is its incredible wealth of talent: As the minstrels, Juan Pablo Madrigal is a skilled dancer and guitar player, and Paula Quesada López is a music professor at Alajuela’s Municipal Conservatory and has sung professional for 15 years. Francisco Ocampo’s animations of Adían González’s drawings are beautifully executed and help illustrate Cuantacuentos’ fables.
The tone stays buoyant and good-humored throughout. When Cuantacuentos finishes his story of Midas, and the tragic king turns his beloved into gold, Madrigal bursts into violent tears. Cuantacuentos goes to Madrigal, wraps a consoling arm around his shoulders, and whispers: “Es un cuento.”
It’s just a story.
“Cuentos de Reyes” continues through the end of the month, Museo de Juan Santamaría. Sundays only, 11 a.m. Tickets: ₡2,000 or $4.