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La Pastorela at the Old Adobe Chapel

By Dean Glass

SOHO's production of La Pastorela at the Old Adobe Chapel ran for eighteen performances from December 15th through 23rd, and SOHO members and the general public who came out to see it were treated to a delightful program from a very talented bunch of people. SOHO Board Member Welton Jones co-directed the production with Luis Torner, who also wrote the script. The cast and crew included veterans of SOHO's earlier dramatic productions, The Gift of the Magi (Whaley House Theater, 2001) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Whaley House Garden, 2002): Vincent Baca (Hermit), Terence Burke (Martín), Susan Scharpf (Set Designer), Roger Henderson (Lighting Designer), and, of course, Welton Jones (Director). The rest of the players and crew were all professionals and it showed in their work.

(Left to right) Terence Burke, Patricia Elmore Costa, Mónica Mendoza, Caleb Álvarez; (in back) Vincent Baca. Photo by Sandé Lollis


La Pastorela recounted the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ as told in the Gospel of Luke, and despite having its roots in Christianity, the religious aspects of this folk play were minimal and it was enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. It was performed in Old Town as early as 1829, and was actually presented in the Adobe Chapel throughout the 1860s. During a Christmas night performance at the Casa de Bandini in 1838, five members of the cast, including the last Mexican governor of California, Pío Pico, were arrested for plotting to overthrow California's government. They were later released.

I enjoyed La Pastorela so much that I saw it four times. But don't take my word for it; here is what a few of the professionals had to say about it:

"Totally charming, genuinely moving... Wonderful cast... Wonderful music with witty references to this and that-and then totally sincere at the right moments. Bilingual business gave the whole thing an aura of authenticity. The venue, of course, contributes enormously."
-David Gregson, San Diego Magazine opera critic

"I and the nieces (a 2nd grader and a 7th grader) enjoyed it thoroughly from the front row. The space is charming & appropriate and the show & performances were perfectly scaled to the house, nothing done in excess or OTT (as we have sometimes seen elsewhere). The buffoonery & deviltry were pitched just right and never carried on too long. I relished all the performances... I didn't really regret not doing the show myself because there wasn't a single performer I would wish to see replaced... I found [Monica Mendoza] lively & hilarious as Belial-her cheeky cheer happily reminding me of some Mexican women friends. The simple lighting and the nicely painted set pieces were just right for the atmosphere; the costumes looked good; the music was also appropriately simple and small scale.
-George Weinberg-Harter, Backstage West & DramaLogue theater critic

"La Pastorela was charming. Lovely songs and such a sense of the performers' heartfelt involvement. And what a wonderful, intimate setting in the church."
-Janice Steinberg, author of The Dead Man and the Sea, Death Crosses the Border, etc.

The Wedding Casa's Norma Edelman, an Old Town-based wedding planner who books weddings at the Adobe Chapel and Whaley House for SOHO, wrote to let us know that she had booked one at the Chapel for February. "The bride fell in love with the chapel during a recent SOHO event," she wrote, "when she saw a dramatic presentation by candlelight." The bride also inquired about the availability of La Pastorela's two musicians, Jesús Seja and Emily Merchant, for the ceremony.

Although SOHO's production of La Pastorela was intended to be the first of a yearly tradition, it is unclear at this time whether there will be a production in 2006. If not, then those who saw it were indeed fortunate.

2006 - Volume 37, Issue 1

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