There is no theater company in town that does community engagement like In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT). For over 35 years, they have built strong ties in their Powderhorn/Phillips neighborhood and with the audiences that share their hope and spirit, partnering volunteers of all ages with incredible artists to create powerful performances.
Their current production, La Natividad, is in its fourth manifestation, and if you have never seen it, you really should. It is a beautiful piece of theater that combines faith, storytelling, community building, spirituality, and a political message.
The bilingual play is based on Las Posadas, a traditional Latin American celebration about Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The play takes place in various locations, such as HOBT’s main theater as well as the nearby Mercado Central and St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located two blocks from the theater.
|la natividad, playing through december 20 at in the heart of the beast puppet and mask theatre. for tickets ($27.50) and information, see hobt.org.|
In HOBT’s version of the story, Joseph, at first played by a puppet, is a working man trying to figure out how to provide for his family, but has to worry about providing for his new wife. He is out of work and trying to find a job, which is difficult, as he is confronted with a host of accusations because of his immigrant status. Finally he learns that he needs to go to Bethlehem for the census.
Like a traditional Las Posadas celebration, the audience processes down the street, journeying with Mary and Joseph, who for the second half of the performance are played by masked performers. Also harkening to tradition, Mary and Joseph knock on the door of one of the houses, and are turned away by the person who answers (played by the person who actually lives in that house).
After failing to find shelter from the neighborhood houses, Mary and Joseph are stopped by Herod, played by the appropriately nasty and thrilling Julian McFaul. Herod stands at a border crossing, complete with barbed wire, and forbids Mary and Joseph to cross.
The choir of angels, made up of volunteer community members, the child angels, and shepherds sing as Joseph pleads with Herod to let him and his wife through. Finally, the community on the other side of the fence break down the barrier through words of welcome, calling “Brother!” “Sister!” and “Bienvenidos!” (“Welcome.”)
It is hard to describe the emotional feeling of that moment when the audience passes through the border together. Surrounded by the voices of the choir, and lit by candlelight, the audience takes part in the ritual that is nothing short of magical.
The performance ends with a joyful celebration as performers invite the audience to dance with them, and afterward everyone feasts together on a meal prepared by volunteers. Children are then invited to sing holiday songs and take a swing at the piñata. It’s a tradition I hope HOBT continues, because I want to go every year.
|This event is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.|